Seven NGOs speak out on emergency contraception
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.”