‘My body, my choice’

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE -

A protest or­gan­ised by Gen­der Equal­ity Malta took place yes­ter­day to op­pose a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee rec­om­men­da­tion that the Morn­ing Af­ter Pill (MAP) be made avail­able only via a doc­tor’s pre­scrip­tion.

Var­i­ous groups such as the Women’s Rights Foun­da­tion, Malta Con­fed­er­a­tion of Women’s Or­gan­i­sa­tion, So­cial Di­a­logue, Civil Lib­er­ties and Con­sumer Af­fairs Min­is­ter He­lena Dalli and the Medicine Au­thor­ity’s chief, An­thony Ser­ra­cino In­glott, are all in favour of hav­ing MAP avail­able via a phar­ma­cist, over the counter. This is the prac­tice in 23 out of 28 EU mem­ber states.

The protest, ac­cord­ing to Gen­der Equal­ity Malta, was or­gan­ised be­cause in the case of emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion, “time is of the essence,” and time wasted in or­der to get a pre­scrip­tion from a doc­tor, who may de­cline to pro­vide on the ba­sis of a con­tentious ob­jec­tion (moral­ity clause) would limit the ef­fec­tive­ness and ac­ces­si­bil­ity to the con­tra­cep­tion.

The ar­gu­ment was orig­i­nally whether MAP had an abortive ef­fect or not, with the vast ma­jor­ity of health­care prac­ti­tion­ers, in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions and re­search cen­tres claim­ing that it is not. This was to an­swer the ques­tion as to whether MAP should be li­censed in the first place or not, as abor­tion is il­le­gal in Malta. The de­bate has now moved to­wards whether it should be avail­able via pre­scrip­tion or over the counter, af­ter the vast ma­jor­ity agreed that it does not have an abortive ef­fect.

“Re­quir­ing a pre­scrip­tion in or­der to ob­tain the morn­ing af­ter pill is counter-pro­duc­tive as its ef­fec­tive­ness is re­duced the later it is in­gested. Doc­tors can also refuse to pre­scribe the morn­ing af­ter pill on grounds of moral­ity, even though it has been shown to be non-abortive,” said Gen­der Equal­ity Malta.

Dr An­drea Dibben from the Women’s Rights Foun­da­tion, and one of the women be­hind the ju­di­cial protest filed back in July in or­der to have MAP li­censed in Malta, said that “you do not com­pro­mise on women’s health and on hu­man rights.”

“The de­ci­sion taken by the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee to li­cense the pill through a doc­tor’s pre­scrip­tion, and the in­clu­sion of a moral­ity clause, makes the pill avail­able but not ac­ces­si­ble. It needs to be ac­ces­si­ble in the same way as the ma­jor­ity of other EU coun­tries.

“She went on to say that it is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able for a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee to ex­pect an in­de­pen­dent au­thor­ity – in this case the Medicine’s Au­thor­ity – to stick to its rec­om­men­da­tions. She ques­tioned how this could be ap­pro­pri­ate or ac­cept­able when the Medicine’s Au­thor­ity is sup­posed to be fully au­ton­o­mous, more so due to the fact that it deals in pub­lic health pol­icy.

“I do not be­lieve that politi­cians should be ex­ert­ing any pres­sure on in­de­pen­dent au­thor­i­ties who must take de­ci­sions based on sci­ence and facts, and not on po­lit­i­cal will. This is very con­cern­ing be­cause it will open the door to many other is­sues and will set a prece­dent for pub­lic health pol­icy.”

Roughly 300 peo­ple were in at­ten­dance, hold­ing var­i­ous plac­ards – some of which read: “my body, my choice.” Po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists such as Michael Brigulio and Arnold Cas­sola were in at­ten­dance; how­ever, no sit­ting politi­cians were present.

A protest or­gan­ised by Gen­der Equal­ity Malta took place yes­ter­day to op­pose a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee rec­om­men­da­tion that the Morn­ing Af­ter Pill (MAP) be made avail­able only via a doc­tor’s pre­scrip­tion Photo: Jonathan Borg

Photo: Jonathan Borg

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