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Is morning-after pill really illegal? Even Health Department is confused

The health promotion unit changes its definition of emergency contraception for the third time: it’s no longer ‘illegal’

miriam
Miriam Dalli
21 June 2016, 12:45pm
Is the morning-after pill really illegal? It’s the question that everyone keeps asking and one that the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate has now apparently decided on.

In the latest update of its sexual health webpage, the directorate has forfeited its previous use of the word “illegal” to describe emergency contraception. The move came on the day that Anthony Serracino Inglott, chairman of the Medicines Authority, told the state broadcaster that the morning-after pill is not an abortifacient.

In less than a week, the government-administered sexual health webpage on emergency contraception underwent at least three changes.

In a panicked reaction following the presentation of a judicial protest by the Women’s Rights Foundation, the directorate moved quickly to dub the morning-after pill “illegal”. The move, however, resulted in the removal of all information on the page, leaving nothing but the sentence: “Emergency contraception is not available in Malta as it is unlicensed and illegal.”

The Women’s Rights Foundation – who are pushing for the licensing of the morning-after pill – promptly took to social media to question what had prompted the page update. Within minutes, the webpage was restored to its original version. Reference to the pill's alleged illegality were retained at the top spot, while references to the Catholic Church’s position on the matter were removed.

But at the start of a new week, the webpage was once again edited, removing the top reference to its illegality.

The webpage underwent several changes between Friday and Monday
The webpage underwent several changes between Friday and Monday
According to sexualhealth.gov.mt, emergency contraceptive drugs, irrespective of type, are not licensed in Malta, and therefore cannot be purchased from Maltese pharmacies.

The EU's Directive on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use allows each member state to retain sovereignty over licensing of contraceptives and abortifacients. Article 4 states that: “this Directive shall not affect the application of national legislation prohibiting or restricting the sale, supply or use of medicinal products as contraceptives or abortifacients. The Member States shall communicate the national legislation concerned to the Commission.”

On emergency contraception, the World Health Organisation says that “emergency contraception is effective only in the first few days following intercourse before the ovum is released from the ovary and before the sperm fertilizes the ovum. Emergency contraception cannot interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo”.

On the other hand, Malta’s health promotion directorate says: “The action of the hormonal emergency contraception will depend on when in relation to ovulation they are administered. Morning-after pills are high-dose hormonal birth control pills that work by stopping or delay ova (the eggs) being released from the ovaries, inhibiting sperm to prevent fertilisation, or preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.

“The ethical debate on this issue centres on whether a pregnancy begins at fertilization or at a later stage of the reproductive cycle, such as at implantation.”

The WRF welcomed the latest updated version, which it said better reflected reality.

“We are however concerned that the fact that Emergency Contraception is not abortifacient is not clearly stated,” the Foundation said.

“That in itself would remove the need to refer to ‘ethical debate’ as stated on the site and at the same time provide public with more accurate information.”

Health Minister Chris Fearne, speaking on ONE Radio this morning, said the government would see what the experts have to say, listen to all arguments and take a decision “which make sense, scientifically.”

miriam
Miriam Dalli joined MaltaToday.com.mt in 2010 and was assistant editor fr...