Seven NGOs speak out on emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

Seven NGOs yes­ter­day voiced their joint opin­ion on the thorny sub­ject of emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion in the wake of a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee meet­ing that rec­om­mended the morn­ing after pill not be sold over the counter.

In a state­ment, the In­te­gra Foun­da­tion, The Crit­i­cal In­sti­tute (TCI), the adi­tus foun­da­tion, the Plat­form for Hu­man Rights Or­ga­ni­za­tions Malta (PHROM), Gen­der Lib­er­a­tion, the Malta Gay Rights Move­ment (MGRM) and Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Friend­ship in Di­ver­sity (OFD) said: “The Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tions on emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion re­flect weak gov­er­nance and a half baked ap­proach to hu­man rights, so­cial rights and pub­lic health.

“The rec­om­men­da­tions badly dis­guise what this Com­mit­tee ac­tu­ally wants, namely to re­tain the sta­tus quo, and to con­tinue to treat women like in­fants who are in­ca­pable of mak­ing de­ci­sions about their bod­ies, their preg­nan­cies and their lives.”

The NGOs re­called how the Medicines Au­thor­ity has been stat­ing from the out­set that there were no le­gal, eth­i­cal or moral rea­sons not to li­cense emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion and that the morn­ing-after pill should be avail­able in pharmacies, over the counter. This is the sit­u­a­tion in nearly all coun­tries in Europe and in­deed in the world, and it is ex­actly what the EU, WHO and other in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions rec­om­mend.

The NGOs added, “The rec­om­men­da­tions of the Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee to a) make the morn­ing-after pill avail­able upon pre­scrip­tion only and b) to al­low doc­tors to ob­ject to pre­scrib­ing it on moral grounds, defy all logic.”

They pro­ceeded to list out sev­eral rea­sons be­hind their ra­tio­nale.

Emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion, as its name im­plies, needs to be taken as quickly as pos­si­ble (de­pend­ing on the pill, 72 hours max. after in­ter­course) for it to work. Re­quir­ing a pre­scrip­tion is a waste of pre­cious time in it­self. In a coun­try like Malta, where a num­ber of doc­tors and phar­ma­cists have ex­pressed their ob­jec­tion to ad­min­is­ter­ing it, that pre­scrip­tion be­comes a huge hur­dle to ob­tain­ing this pill. Women can­not af­ford to waste their time go­ing from one GP to an­other un­til they fi­nally find some­one who ac­tu­ally prac­tices ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tific ev­i­dence.

The rec­om­men­da­tions once again pun­ish and pe­nalise the most vul­ner­a­ble women in our so­ci­ety: vic­tims of rape and in­cest, women forced into pros­ti­tu­tion, teenagers. A vic­tim of rape who is scared of go­ing to the po­lice or to hos­pi­tal will cer­tainly not go to some moral­is­ing GP and re­count her story. As a re­sult of the above, in many cases, sham­ing women into rush­ing to doc­tors to re­quest this pill will have the un­de­sired ef­fect of mak­ing them opt for an abor­tion abroad.

Mak­ing emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion avail­able upon pre­scrip­tion by po­ten­tial ‘con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tors’ is sim­ply an­other step away from gen­der equal­ity. It puts women in a sit­u­a­tion where they re­quire the bless­ing of ‘a higher au­thor­ity’ when mak­ing de­ci­sions about their bod­ies and their fu­tures. Hav­ing a baby is no jok­ing mat­ter. It is a life-chang­ing de­ci­sion that women should have the right to make calmly and serenely. Preg­nancy and moth­er­hood should not be im­posed on women as a re­sult of an un­wanted ac­ci­dent, vi­o­lence or a mis­take.

If Govern­ment wants peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly teenagers, to be bet­ter in­formed about con­tra­cep­tion and sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases, there is am­ple ev­i­dence that tar­geted aware­ness rais­ing cam­paigns are the right tool, and not re­stric­tions, pun­ish­ments and ser­mons.

“Mal­tese women,” the NGOs said, “should not feel com­pelled to ac­cept what Par­lia­ment is propos­ing. Ac­cept­ing those terms would mean ac­cept­ing to be hu­mil­i­ated, con­trolled and pa­tro­n­ised once more.”

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