Professional pharmacists are more than capable to provide morning-after pill - Helena Dalli
● MEPs also disagree with proposal
Minister for Civil Liberties Helena Dalli and Labour Whip Godfrey Farrugia are at odds over the parliamentary committee’s unanimous decision that the morning-after pill should be prescription-only drug.
At a meeting presenting the Cohabitation Bill, Dalli said that she had the utmost faith in the capabilities and professionalism of the pharmacists around the island to provide women with the proper information about the risks and side effects of the medication, whilst also being able to discuss long-term contraception methods and sexual health with the patient.
She also praised the responsibility of pharmacists, pointing towards a World Health Organisation directive which obliges pharmacists to give safe and professional advice to any patient on any product.
She also highlighted that by placing the responsibility squarely on doctors, the emergency contraceptive would not be provided to the patient in time.
This runs contrary to Dr Farrugia’s statements in Parliament on Monday where he suggested that quality health care regarding the issue can only be guaranteed through
doctor-patient consultation. He also mentioned that the patientdoctor consultation was also necessary to maintain public health, since it would be easier to “prevent and monitor sexually transmitted diseases”.
Dr Farrugia then went on to say that accessibility was also an essential reason behind the parliamentary committee’s decision since the country was able to provide a 24/7 health care centre service. He said that bypassing doctors, EU countries sacrifice quality of health in favour of accessibility.
There are currently 23 EU member states which allow pharmacists to provide the emergency contraception. However, there seem to be no records of women who have had serious or lethal reactions to the medication.
Speaking to LovinMalta, MEPs Roberta Metsola and Miriam Dalli also disagreed with the proposal laid out by Godfrey Farrugia, with Miriam Dalli saying “To be honest, I can’t understand the logic of telling women that if they want the morning-after pill they need to have a prescription from a doctor. I would have expected this committee to either say yes, you can have access to the morning-after pill, or no. It’s a bit illogical to me. I can’t understand the logic behind it”.
Dr Metsola also agreed, saying that “I think we have finally established that what we’re talking about is contraception which I would strongly believe has to be as widely accessible as possible. I think what none of us want is to set up this new category of morality police where politicians are trying to dictate to women what they can and what they cannot do.”
NGOs have their say
The question of accessibility has been quickly dismissed by Head of the Women’s Rights Foundation Andrea Dibben. She pointed out the long queues and waiting times that often accompany a visit to a 24/7 health care centre, whilst also saying that by allowing pharmacies to provide the emergency contraceptive over the counter would only increase accessibility for everyone in society namely the vulnerable who may find it too uncomfortable with disclosing so many personal details with a doctor.
These sentiments were echoed by Gender Equality (who are organising a protest on the issue this Sunday in Republic Street, Valletta) who feel that the “unnecessary hurdle of obtaining a prescription lengthens the process”, negates the term ‘emergency’ and proves “detrimental to the empowerment of Maltese women”.
Both NGOs have expressed concerns regarding the decision to allow doctors to prescribe the contraceptive through their own moral convictions since this would mean that people who are desperate for the medication would have to continue going around until a doctor provides them with the contraceptive according to their conscience.
The right for a doctor to reject a prescription based on moral judgement also goes against the European Court of Human Rights, which has already declared that a medical professional cannot conscientiously object to dispensing a medical product.
Ms Dibben also dismissed any links between sexual health and the consumption of the morningafter pill. She pointed to several studies conducted which disprove any correlation between risky sexual behaviour and the pill’s consumption.
This is why, she believes, the Medical Authority has recommended that the emergency contraception be provided over the counter and therefore without the need for prescription. The Medical Authority has remained in line with the recommendations of the European Medicine Authority, European Commission, WHO, and the United Nations.
The issues, according to Ms Dibben, are “completely separate” and the issue of public health should be focused on the education and promotion of long-term contraceptive methods instead of being placed with this emergency contraceptive.
Whilst the NGO which she forms part of did not organise the protest on Sunday, she urges all people who feel strongly about the cause to attend, and called for Members of Parliament such as Helena Dalli (who have expressed their views on the matter) to attend and show solidarity with the demonstrators.
However, Minister Dalli has already stated that she would not be attending the protest on Sunday since “it is not a celebration of a right, but they are looking to put pressure on the government, which I cannot do since I form part of it”.
Dr Dalli stressed that whilst she does not necessarily agree with the decision made by the parliamentary committee, she must respect it, and will look forward to a more progressive outcome in Parliament.