Compassion in the ER
By Dianne Luby | December 25, 2005
THIS MONTH women and sexual assault survivors in Massachusetts marked a major victory when the Commonwealth's new emergency contraception bill went into effect. The new law is a compassionate, common-sense measure that requires hospital emergency room staff to help rape victims avoid pregnancy by providing them with emergency contraception. It also allows specially trained pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without a prescription. Full implementation of this law will provide important new protections for women's health by preventing unintended pregnancies. It will also help reduce the need for abortion.
Emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, can be taken up to five days after rape, contraceptive failure, or unprotected sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy. It is most effective if taken within the first 24 hours. A form of progestin, one of the hormones found in regular birth control pills, emergency contraception works most often by inhibiting ovulation and/or fertilization. It is not RU486, the abortion pill, and it will not harm an existing pregnancy.
Despite promising to support broader access to emergency contraception when he was a candidate in 2002, Governor Romney blocked passage of this law until the Legislature overrode his veto. Last week he tried again to undermine the law when his administration declared its intention to exempt religious hospitals from the obligation to provide emergency contraception to rape survivors. Confronted by a public outcry, strong opposition from the attorney general, and the advice of his own legal counsel, Romney abruptly reversed course and announced that all hospitals will, in fact, have to comply with the new law.
This political fracas has been widely covered. What gets lost, however, in all of the politics are the real experiences of sexual assault survivors, women and girls who have been traumatized and need access to emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. An estimated 7,000 women and girls are raped every year in Massachusetts. Rape victims who receive emergency contraception within the first 24 hours reduce their risk of pregnancy by roughly 95 percent. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Many rape survivors do not seek care, and some who do seek it are denied emergency contraception by their providers.
The patient stories we hear all too often at Planned Parenthood shed light on what it can mean in the life of an individual when she is denied appropriate medical care, whether it is a college student who experiences date rape, but is denied emergency contraception because her college health center does not stock it, or a rape survivor taken to the local emergency room who is not told about emergency contraception because the hospital or individual practitioner is opposed to family planning. When women and girls in this situation become pregnant, they are victims twice.
In the face of this kind of tragedy, it's time for the politics to stop. All hospitals, religious or otherwise, should follow the law and provide the most effective medical care available. That includes providing emergency contraception to rape survivors. The fact is that hospitals enjoy tax-free status and receive substantial amounts of public funding. As a result, taxpayers have the right to expect that all hospitals will adhere to the laws of the Commonwealth and provide high-quality care for patients.
At Planned Parenthood, we hope that all of the debate surrounding this law will help increase public officials' appreciation of the compassionate care that rape victims need and deserve. As Governor Romney finishes the balance of his term, we also hope he will stop using this issue to build his national profile among social conservatives and start putting the interests of women and girls ahead of his own.
Dianne Luby is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Hear! Hear! I'm so happy to see social conservatives slapped down for once. Twice. Dover and "intelligent design", Massachusetts and emergency contraception... Maybe there's hope after all.