The Malta Independent 20 September 2020, Sunday

Protest to demand availability of MAP over the counter – Gender Equality Malta

Helena Grech Sunday, 16 October 2016, 13:33 Last update: about 5 years ago

This afternoon, a protest organised by Gender Equality Malta took place 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.

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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 health care 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 pull 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. 

Photographs by Jonathan Borg

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