Sexual health, reproductive rights - Daniel Attard
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Sexual health, reproductive rights - Daniel Attard

I refer to the Times of Malta editorial of November 15. According to this editorial, Fr Ivan Attard, whose vlog disseminated unscientific and warped information about contraception, was warning us against “the dangers of contraceptives”. Which dangers dareI ask?

The ‘danger’ of halting the spread of STDs and unwanted pregnancies perhaps? Or was it the ‘dangers’ of sensible public health policies?

Equality Minister Helena Dalli’s reprimand of Fr Attard’s vlog on contraception was a considerate response, given that women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are related to multiple human rights, including the right to life, the right to health, the right to privacy, the right to education, and the prohibition of discrimination.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women have both clearly indicated that women’s right to health includes their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Also, is it so shocking for a minister to affirm that “there is no place for the State in the bedrooms of the nation”? 

Of course, sex is not there for reproduction alone, and of course anyone advocating the contrary is out of touch with human nature, and consequently with reality.

Without contraception, women cannot freely choose the timing and spacing of their children, including their right to decide whether to have any at all. Without contraception, equality between women and men would be impossible. Without contraception we would risk a self-inflicted sexual health catastrophe.  

The same applies to the minister’s critique of X Factor’s interview of a gay man who claimed that he was ‘sexually converted’ through prayer. There is professional consensus on the harm of conversion practices and the World Health Organisation states that ‘therapies’ to change sexual orientation lack medical justification and threaten health.

Without contraception, equality between women and men would be impossible

In both instances, the aim was that of protecting our youths and warning their parents against the inadvertent harm they may cause if they try to preclude their youth from living in accordance to their sexuality, and/or restrict their access to contraception. Anything short of that would have been irresponsible.

The editor then resorted to the now nauseating claim that the government’s pro-equality stance is a new form of intolerance.

Once again, we have to suffer the insinuation that LGBTIQ people were afforded equality supposedly because their “gay lobby” is powerful, rather than because human dignity is innate and we all have the right to equality before the law.

Surely, everyone has the right to freedom of expression in line with our Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. This government is a strong believer in the universality and indivisibility of human rights and gladly defends all speech that it does not agree with, for as long as it is within the confines of the law and does not risk doing irreparable harm to those who are susceptible or vulnerable.

This is not the case with those who are partial in their defence of the right to free speech, which they invoke exclusively when it suits them.

Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo referred to the minister as the “‘queen of totalitarianism”, but his democratic and human rights credentials leave much to be desired.

He will only be believed when he actively defends the right to free speech of those he does not agree with. So far, all we have seen of him was a string of attempts to weaken the government proposals for the furtherance of human rights in the country.

This culminated in his votes against marriage equality, and the adoption of the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Act.

Incidentally, this editorial, which referred to the minister as a “modern-day inquisitor”, coincided with her presentation of the government’s human rights update at the UN’s Universal Periodic Review.

There, Malta was congratulated for its sexual health and reproductive rights developments such as over-the-counter-emergency contraception and LGBTIQ advances by no other than Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Iceland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, among others.

As I doubt that such countries spend much time complementing inquisitors and totalitarians, I leave it up to the readers to decide who was hyperbolic and who wasn’t in their utterances.

 Meanwhile, the government will continue to implement its programme, enhancing human rights for all and fortifying the infrastructure for such rights to become fully enforceable and justiciable. 

Daniel Attard is government spokesman, Ministry for European Affairs and Equality.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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