The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

‘This absolute ban on abortion is not found in any other EU member state’ – Doctors for Choice

Karl Azzopardi Wednesday, 5 February 2020, 17:22 Last update: about 20 days ago

Doctors for Choice (Malta) released a position paper on abortion today which states that Malta is the only EU member state that has a complete ban on abortion.

Founding members of the organisation hosted a press conference this afternoon in front of the Health Ministry in Valletta where they presented their position paper about the issues that the current "restrictive" Maltese legislation on abortion causes and why abortion services should be made legal.

 "Abortion is healthcare. This is the position of our organisation, as well as that of the highest medical institutions worldwide, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Federation of Gynaecology (RCOG), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP)," said Doctors for Choice representative Isabel Stabile.

She said that Malta's Criminal Code was deemed to be "not in line with international human rights standards and regional best practices" by the Council of Europe's Commissioner of Human Rights in 2017 due to its complete ban of abortion services.

The position paper states that such restrictions create a number of problems for both doctors and patients alike as it has implications on the doctor-patient relationship and the advice and care that doctors give to women. Additionally, women's lives are at risk as denying abortion services has negative repercussions on all levels; physical, mental and social, it reads.

Dr Jamie Grech said that the abortion ban in Malta does not stop abortions but simply makes them less safe as they go abroad to have them or take abortive pills. This creates a complication with regards to post-abortion care, especially for young girls who are more at risk, he said. The position paper points out that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child makes it clear that children have a right to access safe abortion and post-abortion care services.

With these concerns in mind, Doctors for Choice (Malta) is using this position paper to springboard a conversation on the importance of the introduction of abortion services in Malta.

"Our primary legislative aim is the repeal of Article 241 of the Criminal Code, and any other legislation that may be related to the criminal sanctioning of abortion," the paper states.

This is one of the aims of Doctors for Choice (Malta) which has been advocating for sexual and reproductive healthcare in Malta that is safe, equitable and accessible since May 2019, the organisation said. It also believes in the importance of comprehensive sexual and reproductive education as well as comprehensive and freely accessible contraception. Since its formation, the organisation has also joined forces with Voice for Choice and with Global Doctors for Choice.

The position paper also includes medical evidence that claims that there is no proof that claims on abortion are harmful for mental health.

As a conclusion to their paper, they appealed for abortion to be regulated under healthcare policy and not under criminal law. "The lack of a clear legal framework and policy guidelines for when a women's life is at risk is particularly worrying and should be changed to clearly reflect the absolute protection of women in Malta. Due to the lack of abortion services, Malta's medical authorities are falling short of best-practice and the highest standards recommended by international guidelines which are based on evidence-based medicine."

This position paper is a collaborative work written by a number of medical professionals coming from different medical areas, namely, Dr Christopher Barbara (Psychiatry), Dr Gilbert Gravino (Clinical Radiology), Dr Jamie Grech and Dr Elena Saliba (Paediatric Medicine), Dr Natalie Psaila (General Practice) and Isable Stable (Obstetrics and Gynaecology).

The full document is available for download here: https://www.doctorsforchoice.mt/position-papers


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