This article first appeared on the Sunday edition of Malta Today
Do you really want your GP to know every single time you have had sex?
Well, in short, that is the reality of what the recommendations regarding the Morning After Pill put forward by the Members of Parliament who sit on the joint health, social affairs and family committee mean.
As far as I know, MPs are elected to represent US and not for us to be subjected to their moralising …but on this issue they are certainly not representing a large number of women. If you think this is just the “rant” of a bunch of diehard, radical feminists who have nothing better to do, then perhaps you have not really understand the implications of what is being proposed. Let us take a closer look at these recommendations which I have translated from the Maltese version.
1. The experts and other witnesses who appeared in front of the committee did not have one, common opinion abut whether emergency contraception can interfere with implantation. While a number of experts explained that there is no proof that this can happen, others said that one can never say that there is no interference.
2. A number of experts and entities failed to give their opinion about the subject because the studies and documents on this subject vary and are conflicting, and therefore they felt they were not in a position to reach a conclusion.
3. The members of the joint committee within the Maltese Parliament do not have the function to process the application for medical products, nor can they issue or deny a licence for medical products.
4. It should be the responsibility of the Medicines Authority to analyze every application in front of it and this according to the procedure of reciprocal recognition and the decentralized procedure of the relevant Member State.
5. The laws of our country, that is the Criminal Code and the Embryo Protection Act should always be observed by everyone and every entity and authority and therefore every decision taken by the Medical Authority, both in this case and for any other medical product, should be taken on the bases of the actual laws in our country and without any breach of any fundamental human rights as outlined in the Maltese Constitution.
6. The Medicines Authority should issue a licence for these medical products if it results that they are not abortive according to the laws of Malta.
7. In view of the medical product which is being considered and in view of the ethical issues which were raised during sittings on this subject, it is vital that where the Medicines Authority has serious doubts, the licensing or non-licensing of this product should be decided after more technical and medical studies, as well as legal and ethical studies are carried out.
8.Those patients who wish to make use of emergency contraception have a right to take a voluntary and informed decision and to choose the treatment which protects their health in the most complete way possible.
9. The medical profession has the right to its professional integrity and ethics, and doctors should be free when they come to decide in favour or against emergency contraception. Regulation number 10 from the Doctors Ethics (Medical Council) stipulates that a doctor should always bear in mind the preservation of life from conception to death.
10. The joint committee, on the advice of the Medical Council, agrees that these medicines should be given against a doctor’s prescription, until otherwise decided by the Council. It is important that public health is protected as well as the well-being of the patient through a system of comprehensive health care.
I would say that Numbers 1 – 8 are all quite reasonable, but the stumbling block is hit at number 9 and 10. Because one minute the MPs are saying that the licence should be given for the MAP because it is not abortive and the next we are being told that it can only be purchased against a doctor’s prescription and then comes the final zinger: a doctor can exercise his/her right to refuse to prescribe the MAP because of his/her personal integrity and ethics (for which read, because he/she believes the MAP is, in fact, abortive). Those last two also contradict recommendation Number 8…because, surely if a patient has a right to take a voluntary and informed decision then she should not be blocked by a doctor who is gripped by a moral dilemma? What kind of rights are those if they are being arbitrarily decided by the only person standing between her and her right to obtain emergency contraception, her doctor?
The whole idea of having to run around Malta trying to find a doctor who will prescribe the MAP completely flouts the very essence of equal rights. Why should a woman be subjected to such humiliating treatment, which reduces her to having to discuss her sexual activity with a number of doctors until she finds one willing to whip out his prescription pad, when in any other country emergency contraception is available over the counter from pharmacists? I have this scenario in my mind’s eye of a woman going to her doctor and asking for an MAP prescription only to be met by a stern look and a moralizing lecture because the doctor does not agree with emergency contraception. If this is not an attempt at infantilizing women and making them feel bad about their sexuality, I don’t know what it is.
There are women in their teens, 20s, 30s and 40s who do not wish to fall pregnant or who have decided they do not want any more children. If we are going to allow doctors to be the morality police over women’s sexuality then we are no better than any other country (which we consider “backward”) which tries to control its women.
To quote the Women’s Rights Foundation, “the European Court of Human Rights has already declared that there is no right to conscientious objection when dispensing a licensed medical product. Implementing this recommendation will thus potentially expose doctors and the state to litigation….we reiterate that the parliamentary committee’s recommendation to make emergency contraception available by prescription only is disregarding scientific and clinical evidence and is recommending an action that harms women’s health by denying them appropriate access to a product that can prevent an unplanned pregnancy. We have waited patiently in the hope that our members of parliament would have at least considered the rights of women and given that not once, were these rights even taken into consideration, we are not excluding further legal action.”
Yes, it will probably end up in a lawsuit because our MPs are skating on very thin ice. When these recommendations are tabled in Parliament next week, women all over Malta will be waiting for someone, anyone, to finally speak up on their behalf….because to date, MPs all across the board have failed miserably in that department.