We feel that there is still much left to be said on the morning-after pill controversy.
The Parliamentary Committee has made it clear that there are two different types of morning-after pill. First, EllaOne, which can prevent a living embryo from implanting itself in the uterus or even kill an embryo after implantation. It is efficient even 120 hours after it is taken. (Committee report, pg 7)
The second one is Plan B. Plan B, if taken at a certain time before ovulation, can act as an anovulatory, which means that it prevents the ovary from releasing an egg, and therefore is not abortifacient. Plan B, after appropriate testing, such as a urine test on the woman to check whether she has ovulated or not, has been used in hospitals abroad that acknowledge that life starts from fertilisation.
Chris Fearne has said that both Plan B and EllaOne will be made available at Mater Dei and government clinics in rape cases. This does not seem to be lawful when the Parliamentary Committee highlighted the fact that “Maltese laws determine that life starts with the fertilisation of the ovum. Thus, any product which terminates a pregnancy after fertilisation can be abortive.” (Committee report, pg 8)
We are hopeful that the appropriate protocols will be used to make sure that the new life conceived through sexual assault, an innocent bystander, does not become a ‘second victim’ of rape through chemical abortion.
Getting it right the morning after for us means that women who end up victims of rape are to be protected as much as possible from the attacker’s sperm by having morning-after pills that will only prevent ovulation, thereby preventing conception. If it is determined that the woman is ovulating, the morning-after pill will not be able to block the egg’s release from her ovary.
We are thus strongly suggesting that EllaOne should not be licensed
Under these circumstances, the morning-after pill can function to prevent the implantation of any newly conceived embryo/s, which would be the equivalent to a chemical abortion. Under these conditions, therefore, the morning-after pill should not be administered. All embryos, whether one day or one month old, are worthy and precious and should be protected in accordance to Malta’s own laws.
We are thus strongly suggesting that EllaOne should not be licensed. It is only Plan B that should be allowed in Malta, and the appropriate testing – whether in a pharmacy, clinic or hospital – ought to be done on the woman to confirm that she has not yet ovulated before administering this pill. This will ensure that the embryo’s life is safeguarded from the very beginning.
It is imperative that the embryo’s life in the first five days between fertilisation and implantation remains protected, especially now that other laws such as the Equality Act (which considers opening IVF to all people, including singles) are in the pipeline.
In these delicate moments, when a woman is considering the morning-after pill, women should always be fully informed of all the risks, side effects, cautions and contraindications of these pills. The Medical Council has clearly highlighted that these pills can interact with other medicines and conditions, affecting the patient’s well-being.
Besides pills, women also ought to be offered options of concrete support, including emotional support, in case the pregnancy still goes through. This work is currently only being done with limited resources by HOPE pregnancy centre (a branch of Gift of Life) in Malta and Dar Ġużeppa Debono in Gozo.
The authors are women and mothers who work in social, educational and youth fields.