“We’re ready to listen to civil society and see how we will be moving forward,” Equality Minister Helena Dalli said in reaction to calls for a public debate on abortion.

The Women’s Rights Foundation has backed calls from Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, who insisted Malta should hold a debate on the controversial issue.

Describing Malta as a “restrictive regime” on abortion, Mr Muižniek expressed his shock at the fact that there was a wide-ranging debate on the morning-after pill, but no discussion on safe access to abortion.

Dr Dalli insisted that civil society needed to push the debate forward, pointing out that “neither party has reproductive rights on its agenda”.

But the government would be listening to further calls on the debate, she said.

Asked whether it would be appropriate to describe Malta as a progressive and liberal State given Mr Muižnieks’s comments, Dr Dalli said that “there are subjects which are not discussed” and the country’s legislation on civil rights means that “no one can say that Malta is not progressive”.

Dr Dalli noted that the call for emergency contraception came from civil society, which flagged that the “right to emergency contraception” did not exist locally.

The government took the debate on emergency contraception, “in the most democratic way possible”, Dr Dalli said. But the government had placed the burden on the Medicines Authority to decide on whether the morning-after pill should be made available over the counter.

The parliamentary committee set up to evaluate the introduction of the morning-after pill eventually agreed to making it legal.

The Equality Minister also said that she would be looking into private funding for the Women’s Rights Foundation, which the NGO alleged had been refused after it lobbied for the introduction of the morning-after pill.

Director Lara Dimitrijevic also lamented the fact that many activists were called ‘baby killers’ when they started speaking out about the issue.

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