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[WATCH] Women on morning after pill: it's our right

A discussion on the morning-after pill into a verbal tug of war due to misinformation, misconception and misunderstanding

miriam
Miriam Dalli / Martina Borg
21 June 2016, 10:43am
Roberta Lepre, Maria Pisani and Miriam Dalli
Roberta Lepre, Maria Pisani and Miriam Dalli
Women have their say on morning after pill
Misinformation, misconception and misunderstanding have turned a discussion on the morning-after pill into a verbal tug of war between two camps: those who believe in a woman’s right to access emergency contraception and the pro-lifers who claim that the morning-after pill (MAP) increases promiscuity.

Malta’s bishops have also weighed in, branding the MAP as abortifacient.

It was the Women’s Rights Foundation, led by respected women’s rights activist Lara Dimitrijevic and supported by 102 women, who spearheaded a judicial protest to ensure the availability of emergency contraception in case of unprotected sexual intercourse.

Human rights activist Maria Pisani, one of the 102 signatories to the judicial protest, explained that the MAP Malta provides women with the possibility of preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex. 

“The judicial protest also marks an important milestone for women in Malta, as they take a stand and demand more control over their own bodies and reproductive health,” Pisani says.

“This is a woman’s issue, and has important social justice implications. Ensuring women’s reproductive health, particularly young women, enhances their social, economic and political contribution to, and participation, in their immediate communities and broader society.”

Lawyer Roberta Lepre, equally known for women’s rights activism, quotes the WHO’s definition of emergency contraception.

“The MAP does not end a pregnancy but prevents it from happening. Whilst not being intended solely for forced sexual encounters, the discussion regarding whether the emergency contraceptive pill should be allowed or otherwise should certainly take this factor into consideration,” Lepre says. 

“It is also worth noting that the World Health Organisation considers the emergency contraceptive pill as being one form of emergency contraception, along with IUDs.  The latter form of contraception is widely used in Malta and its use is not controversial.”

Lepre says she cannot understand why the EC should raise any controversy since these two methods seem to work in the same manner. 

“I feel that the opposition to the use of the emergency contraceptive pill is merely scaremongering based on disseminating false information. Whilst I respect people’s choice not to resort to this method should they still have their own moral reservations, I feel it is unjust to deny this contraceptive method to others who may not share the same moral views and choose to make a decision based on scientific knowledge within the context of their own personal situation.”

Labour MEP Miriam Dalli calls for an informed debate and insists that such discussions can no longer go ignored.

“We definitely need a healthy informed debate on different contraceptives and their effects, including the morning-after pill. I strongly feel that the more we ignore sexual and reproductive issues the more we fuel uninformed decisions with all their side effects. I feel that many times this is what we have been doing for long,” Dalli says. 

“Ignoring such issues, does not equate to the illusion that things are not happening in our country as well. Even though the morning-after pill is not legal in Malta, women who want to have the same effect as the morning-after pill can get other alternatives. Letting things unfold in this manner means that people are not being properly informed of what their alternatives are, what the side effects on their bodies can be and what the impact of their choice actually is.”

On her part, PN MEP Roberta Metsola says that the Nationalist Party’s position was, is and will remain against abortion.

“The Nationalist Party will discuss the judicial protest within its internal structures, from a legal, political and ethical point of view.”

Metsola adds that such matters are strictly left to member states alone to decide. 

“The European parliament and other EU institutions have no competence on these issues.” 

What do women think?

A look at the social media and news comments board reveals a myriad of opinions, easily split among three groups: those in favour, those against and those who avoid engaging in a debate due to uninformed arguments.

A quick visit to Valletta for a MaltaToday voxpop on Thursday and Friday revealed that the WRF’s battle is not just with legislators, but also with a lack of understanding in the subject.

Many said that they agreed with the morning-after pill, as long as it wasn’t used to terminate a pregnancy, showing a muddled idea of what the pill actually does. 

It was also noticed that women from their twenties to their late thirties were more aware of the functions of the pill, arguing that it’s taken too early for fertilisation to have taken place.

University student Mandy Muscat says she was aware of the pill’s use for unwanted pregnancies and rapes: “I think that it should be regularised, but not available over the counter.” 

She had mixed feelings about whether or not the pill could be considered abortive.

“I think nature should be allowed to take its own course, but I think everyone has the right to make their own choice whether to use certain contraception or not, as long as they are well informed,” Tonia Grima, who questions whether these pills could ultimately increase the risk of disabilities in children, adds.

Students Hennie Cassar and Oliwia Gorska, on the other hand, say that having the pill made available would prevent teenage pregnancies, which were very often unwanted. They added that they did not consider the pill abortive, because it was used too early after intercourse for the embryo to form.

“The Church might consider it as abortion, but from a biological aspect, I don’t think it is,” Natalie Mifsud says.

“Sex has become part of our lifestyle and if a woman doesn’t feel she’s ready to have children, she has the right to live her life the way she wants,” Ritianne Zammit adds.

“I am pro-life, however people are no longer able to have the same number of children as they used to in my day. Child rearing has become so expensive that family planning is important, and women are doing nothing wrong by taking the pill,” a grandmother said.

Why would women use MAP?

Emergency contraception in Malta is unlicensed and, therefore, is not sold. Yet, women who have asked for emergency contraception in Malta were instructed to take a high dose of their regular contraceptive pill.

The reasons why a woman would request the MAP are varied: a contraceptive pill that may have been missed, unprotected sexual intercourse, a condom that slipped or broke, or in case of rape or sexual assault.

Whatever the reason may be, the WRF believes that it is a woman’s right to have access to emergency contraception (EC). After all, EC does not terminate a pregnancy but prevents most pregnancies when taken after intercourse.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “levonorgestrel-alone emergency contraception pills are very safe and do not cause abortion or harm future fertility. Side-effects, generally similar to those experienced by women using oral contraceptive pills, are uncommon and generally mild.”

WHO specifies: “Emergency contraceptive pills prevent pregnancy. They should not be given to a woman who already has a confirmed pregnancy. If a woman inadvertently takes the pills after she becomes pregnant, however, the available evidence suggests that the drugs will not harm either the mother or her fetus. These drugs are not used for termination of pregnancy.”

How does emergency contraceptive pills work? According to Princeton University, “emergency contraceptive pills prevent pregnancy primarily, or perhaps exclusively, by delaying or inhibiting ovulation. There is no evidence to suggest that either of the FDA-approved emergency contraceptive options, levonorgestrel (LNG, such as Plan B One-Step, Take Action, Next Choice One Dose or My Way ) or ulipristal acetate (UPA, such as ella) works after an egg is fertilized.”

A new women’s pro-life organization – whose founder was a board member of the Gift of Life Foundation – has however claimed that the morning-after pill could encourage rape and abusive behaviour by men, and that it is linked with increased sexual promiscuity.

Quoting unnamed studies, the Women for Life said: “The morning-after pill in other countries also appears to have encouraged abusive behaviour and rape by men, allowing male perpetrators to cover their crimes by forcing the morning-after pill to their female victims.”

miriam
Miriam Dalli joined MaltaToday.com.mt in 2010 and was assistant editor fr...
Martina Borg focuses on lifestyle and society issues