Emergency contraception: our women’s needs are paramount | Rosianne Cutajar

Rosianne Cutajar • I have little patience for prejudice and the peddling of pointless fear in this country. There is nothing shameful about sex, and certainly not about all matters relating to contraception, including the MAP

The matter of the morning-after pill has exposed an ever more urgent need to educate and drive home the importance of our sexual health, and to ensure that our people are able to tell scientific fact from outright misinformation. But it has also highlighted the glaring incompetence across our Opposition benches.

Speaking in Parliament earlier this week I had to spell out a few basic, universal facts about aspects of reproductive rights and emergency contraception.

I outlined some of the many reasons why a woman may need to use the morning-after pill (MAP) in order to ensure she does not get pregnant in the first place.

I explained how the three types of MAP available in our country are of a contraceptive nature that does not cause abortions, contrary to the reactionary spin being dished out by those, including some of our politicians, who would rather dis-inform the public than state the facts.

I said that the instruction leaflets for the MAP available in Malta are clear as day about its function.

I said that if a woman is already pregnant, the MAP cannot terminate the pregnancy. I said that the MAP is hardly used by women on a whim, but because of a real and pressing need to avoid getting pregnant.

I spoke briefly about progestin and its function of preventing the egg from getting severed from the ovary, hence blocking the prospect of fertilisation.

A woman does not use the MAP because she is irresponsible, as some would have us believe. Use of the MAP is a matter of urgency – and it is a choice that nobody but the woman herself should have a say upon.

The pill needs to be as readily accessible as possible, not least because its effectiveness depends on how rapidly it is consumed after intercourse. I have insisted and will continue to insist that all of pharmacies should stock and dispense it.

We also have an informed basis to believe that women in Gozo are facing a more uphill struggle insofar as accessibility to the morning-after pill is concerned.

If a pharmacist’s conscience is fine with selling other contraceptives, I cannot see a reason why they should not apply the same logic with the MAP.

With Malta being the only European country that criminalises abortion, common sense would dictate that the use of contraceptives takes a front seat and gets encouraged in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies — and not the other way round.

And yet, some seventy years or so since the creation of the morning-after pill and the sexual liberation movements across Europe and the States I find myself in time travel mode, having to use my parliamentary time to go through some of the very basics.

And this because of those who would rather bury their heads in the sand than listen to the real and pressing needs of their people.

It is sad to see our Opposition saddled with the likes of Edwin Vassallo. How can we, as a government, ever sit back and congratulate ourselves on our civil liberties record when we’re lumped with an Opposition that insists on spreading fear and twisted doctrines on such delicate matters?

Our struggle to educate and to inform our people in a factual and correct way is made harder by our Opposition. And the spreading of false information about the MAP only makes life harder for those who actually need it.

It is downright bizarre that the Opposition should assign Edwin Vassallo to the parliamentary committee tasked with debating the draft Equality bill — with Vassallo behaving in such a way as to ensure that the passing of the Bill through committee stage is delayed for as long as possible.

Alas, Vassallo seems to believe in a top-down approach, one in which his personal views should also be embraced wholesale by the people. And these are the very same people he should be listening to in order to appreciate their often difficult circumstances in life.

He does not seem able to distinguish between his personal views and the diversity of needs that are constantly coming from our communities.

These are the needs that, as elected politicians, should keep us on our toes and with ears to the ground.

The fact that members of his own parliamentary group continue to defend Vassallo and to justify what he has been saying is doing no service to the perception of the Opposition in the eyes of our people.

I have little patience with prejudice, stigma and the peddling of pointless fear in this country. And there is nothing shameful about sex, and certainly not about all matters relating to contraception, including the MAP.

There are only persons who turn to us for solutions – we, as lawmakers, are their supportive shoulder.

Let us continue to discuss reproductive rights and work to reform our national sexual health policy, as the Health Minister has already pointed out. Indifference simply eats away at our humanity.

And we, as lawmakers, must set the example.

I do not want to be alone in saying this. As a country we are actively working on bettering our physical health, increasingly also our mental health – our sexual and reproductive health is equally crucial.

And yes, contraceptives like the MAP are essential in securing it.

Rosianne Cutajar Parliamentary Secretary for Equality and Reforms Parliamentary Secretary for Civil Rights and Reforms