State may force hospitals to make ‘Plan B’ available

Rape victims in Connecticut may soon be able to obtain emergency contraception at any hospital in the state, including Catholic hospitals opposed to the treatment, if a bill currently being considered by the state legislature is passed before May.

The bill, currently before the legislature’s Committee on Public Health, would require that all health-care facilities treating victims of sexual assault inform the patient of the availability of medication which could prevent pregnancy and dispense the medication, known also as the “morning-after pill” or “Plan B,” upon her request. But the four Catholic hospitals in Connecticut, including St. Raphael in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood, object to the bill, which they say could force them to violate Church teachings on abortion.

Although some debate whether the pill, which could prevent a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in the womb, is a type of abortion, Catholic teaching forbids its use, said the Rev. John Gatzak, the director of communications for the archdiocese of Hartford.

“The fundamental reason why the church does not dispense Plan B is that it is an abortifacent and to do so would be immoral, according to the religious understanding of the Catholic Church,” he said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who is pro-choice, has said she supports the current law, which allows hospitals to choose not to dispense Plan B for religious reasons but requires that they refer women seeking it to other hospitals, Rell spokesman Judd Everhart said.

Everhart said Rell, a Republican, would be willing to consider the new bill if the legislature passes it.

“She’s very much open to any legislative debate … but she’s not pushing the idea in either direction,” he said.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who is running for governor, supports the bill forcing Catholic hospitals to provide Plan B, campaign spokesman Derek Slap said. DeStefano has previously called upon the state’s 20 Wal-Mart pharmacies to begin stocking the pill, Slap said.

Gatzak said the policy of the state’s Catholic hospitals is to inform women who come to their emergency rooms of the option of using Plan B and to direct them to other nearby facilities that could dispense it to her.

“It would be the patient’s choice to continue under the care of the Catholic hospital, or to transfer to another,” he said.

But Laura Cordes, director of policy and advocacy for Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services Inc., said rape victims should not be forced to transfer between hospitals to secure complete treatment. Plan B, she said, is a time-sensitive medication, and the delay in seeking an open pharmacy willing to dispense the drug could reduce its effectiveness.

“The reality for rape victims is that it’s just unrealistic to expect that after surviving a trauma and reaching out for help, that [they] would then be asked to go someplace else,” she said. “We do not want to put rape victims in the position of having to choose between bearing the child of a rapist and having an abortion.”

Democratic state Sen. Gayle Slossberg, vice chair of the Public Health Committee, said she supports the bill because she believes it could improve the quality of care for sexual-assault victims. She said she has been meeting with individuals and organizations concerned about the ramifications of the bill for Catholic hospitals, and that the committee is very sensitive to their needs.

“This is about rape victims and making sure that they are getting the best care that they can,” she said. “It shouldn’t matter where a rape victim is being treated.”

To become law, the bill will have to be voted out of the Public Health Committee by March 20 and passed by the legislature and senate by May 3, when the current legislative session ends.

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