A PLAY on the abortion ban in Malta will send a “word of warning” to the UK where our laws “are not safe”, a co-writer and director have said.

Chalk Line Theatre’s Blanket Ban will premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe from August 4 to 28, and will take audiences through three years of interviews with anonymous women who have been put in terrifying and life-threatening situations due to abortion being prohibited in the post-colonial, Catholic country.

And as co-stars, writers and activists Davinia Hamilton and Marta Vella interrogate Malta’s restrictions on the freedom of women, questions emerge as to how and why a country with such progressive LGBTQ rights still maintains such a hard line on abortion.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has been banned in Malta since 2004, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have been allowed to serve in the military for 20 years, and transgender people are allowed to legally change their gender without medical interventions – but progress on abortion has never followed suit.

READ MORE: Play tells story of the Scottish heroes of Spanish Civil War

Some might wonder why the play is being premiered in Scotland rather than Malta, but Hamilton and director Sam Edmunds believe it comes at a relevant moment in this country and hope the performance will spark conversations about rights and just how protected they really are.

Edmunds said: “We first started making this show in 2020 during the pandemic and there’s not been a week where we’ve not had to update it based on what’s been happening over the past two years. It’s just mindboggling.

“There’s two reasons this is happening in the UK. One because it’s far too dangerous and complicated to do this in Malta, but in the UK we are also sat on a precipice at the minute where things can change in a blink of an eye and our laws are not safe here.”

The UK Government recently refused to guarantee the right to abortion in its forthcoming Bill of Rights, as Justice Secretary Dominic Raab – who abstained in a vote on decriminalising abortion in 2017 - told MPs he did not see the case for protection arguing it was “already settled in the UK law”.

But abortions are still by default deemed a criminal act in England, Scotland and Wales under the 1967 Abortion Act. It is only legal to get one if it is signed off by two doctors and carried out under certain circumstances within a particular time limit.

And Hamilton believes it would be very simple to strip abortion rights from UK citizens.

The National: Davinia Hamilton (right) and Marta Vella who are set to star in Blanket Ban at the Edinburgh FringeDavinia Hamilton (right) and Marta Vella who are set to star in Blanket Ban at the Edinburgh Fringe

Hamilton, who works for pro-choice organisation Abortion Rights, added: “We were reading about this Bill of Rights that’s coming up in Parliament. They [opposition MPs] wanted to put abortion and reproductive rights in it but Dominic Raab said it’s already settled in the law. But it’s not settled in the law, it’s really not.

“I would describe the 1967 Abortion Act as a workaround, you’ve only got abortion under very specific circumstances. So it takes one super conservative government to suddenly link abortion to a really hot topic like migration and, if they spin it the right way, the law makes it easy for them to just go ‘no, we’ll take that away’.

“I don’t think we can afford to be complacent about this. We do see the play as a word of warning, a very cautionary tale.”

The play – set to be performed at Underbelly in Cowgate – interweaves a few different methods of storytelling.

Hamilton and Vella share how they made the production with moving stories from interviews they carried out, but they then combine that with re-enacting some of those stories and a poetic exploration of Maltese identity.

Despite how Malta was a British colony until 1964, Hamilton feels Maltese stories are not told often enough.

She said: “Maltese stories are not represented in this country at all, you don’t see it.

“It was really important for me and Marta to have a bit of Maltese joy on stage, it is there. It’s really important we mention this isn’t a take-down of Malta either. Malta is a beautiful and incredible country and it deserves so much better.”

The production will premiere just months after the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade ruling, meaning there is no longer a constitutional right to abortion and individual states can make their own rules. And it comes at a time where in Scotland, anti-abortion activists – many of which have been influenced by US groups – have stepped up demonstrations outside clinics as Green MSP Gillian Mackay attempts to enshrine anti-protest buffer zones into law.

Hamilton said an incident which happened directly before Roe v Wade was overturned showed how Blanket Ban can be a cautionary tale and both her and Edmunds are looking forward to hearing about the impact it has on audiences.

READ MORE: Roma history and resistance celebrated at Scottish exhibition

Hamilton said: “There was a case recently in Malta where an American woman was 16 weeks pregnant, went to Malta on holiday and suddenly started haemorrhaging. She went to hospital where they said the embryo wasn’t going to make it, but the doctor said until you are imminently dying, we can’t intervene.

“She had to be airlifted out of Malta by her travel insurance. That’s really shameful and embarrassing and it came right before Roe [v Wade] was overturned, so it was exactly a cautionary tale.”

Edmunds added: “A big part of this process was us thinking how do you make a theatre piece about such a heavy hitting topic but also make it entertaining.

“I think we’re really interested to see how we’ve married those elements together and what the lasting impact is when the audience walk out the theatre.”