Malta Law Students’ Society GħSL has launched a bold policy paper calling for the decriminalisation of abortion in Malta, among other major sexual health reforms.
“We plan on putting our proposals forward to the relevant stakeholders, and hopefully in time, the Maltese legislator will use our proposals as a setting stone for any such bills put forward on this topic,” Għsl secretary general Maya Spiteri Dalli told Lovin Malta.
Surprisingly, Spiteri Dalli added that there were no objections to the paper on one of Malta’s last taboo issue.
“Abortion is not new to the civilised conversation and given our policy portfolio, where we’ve previously handled subjects such as euthanasia, human trafficking and civil damages reform, this was a natural step for us.”
“We don’t publish anything without a unanimous consensus and prior consultation with the executive,” the law student continued.
The paper calls for the “urgent” removal of articles 241 and 243 of the Criminal Code of Malta, on which the island’s complete abortion ban is based, making women who get them liable to eighteen months to three years imprisonment and heavily penalises any medical professionals involved.
It also demands that the state clears any grey areas surrounding abortion in Malta, which were recently exhibited when a woman with an unviable pregnancy was given methotrexate, an abortive pill, after several delays due to these laws.
Besides removing the blanket ban, GħSL also proposed training and resources to provide necessary care for family planning and post-abortion care, including a safe space for those who faced verbal, sexual or phycological abuse.
An independent body to provide counselling for pre-abortion decisions, family planning, post-abortion advice “without bias, judgment or stigma” should also be established.
“Counselling is the ideal option for women and any medical professionals at any stage of the process of considering an abortion, rather than face criminal prosecution,” the group stressed.
Below are some of the other key points made in the paper.
1. Sexual Health Committees for Parliament
Beyond legislative reforms, GħSL called for a new standing committee for parliament called the “Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee”.
It would be mandated to consult with professionals, NGOs and legal experts for all matters on gender equality and consult with stakeholders prior to any bill relating to sexual and reproductive rights.
A sub-committee dedicated to sexual health and education should also be established, to review and amend the decade-old national sexual health policy, which it described as “an urgent and dire matter”.
It also suggested that the taboo issue be brought into discussion in parliament and on the agenda of political party’s manifestos, recommended by Superintendent of Public Health, EU institutions or citizens of Malta by means of a referendum.
The paper warned against using abortion as a means of scaremongering or to provide false information to mislead the public.
As part of sexual education reform, GħSL suggests that every secondary and tertiary school have a qualified sexual health officer, to tackle students’ questions, refer students to doctors if need be and report abuse in confidentiality.
In terms of education, it called for a structured and compulsory sexual health curriculum to be “factual, scientifically accurate without any form of religious or moral bias”.
To do so, it must embrace the reality that teenagers may have an active sex life, teach about contraceptives and the procedure of abortion.
GħSL called for vending machines with lubricants and condoms to be installed in every tertiary school as well as free sanitary products in all schools, prison, open and closed detention centres and national hospitals.
The state should ensure no barriers to access to contraceptive pills, which face mass shortages in Malta. The paper suggests they be included within the Pharmacy for Your Choice scheme, upon the recommendation of a doctor, which would make them free.
Lastly, the paper touches on journalism. It calls on the Institute of Maltese Journalists to draft guidelines for reporting on abortion, sexual health and reproduce rights.
4. The Morning After Pill
Access to the morning after pill is another point of contingency in Malta. The law group called on the Chamber of Pharmacists to publicly declare that the MAP is a contraceptive and not abortifacient.
It urged the Chamber to investigate why only 64% of pharmacies open on a Sunday stock the morning-after pill.
It also appeals for emergency contraception, which currently not available at the out-patient pharmacy at Mater Dei, to be included on the hospital formulary list.
Lastly, more resources are needed for the national sexual health clinic as well as the establishment of one for Gozo.
You can read the whole policy paper here.
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