Rape victims need care, not needless rules

It is difficult to imagine a situation in which a victim of a violent crime would not receive comprehensive care in an emergency room. In the midst of the confusion, fear and vulnerability that plague a crime victim, the last worry he or she should have is that the hospital will be unwilling to provide adequate treatment.

This scenario, however, is reality for rape victims in hospitals all over Connecticut. Citing religious objections, several Catholic hospitals in the state refuse to administer emergency contraception to rape victims in their emergency rooms. Emergency contraception is the only form of post-coital birth control, and it is 95 percent effective if taken within the first 24 hours after an assault. According to the standards of medical treatment for sexual assault victims established by the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American College of Emergency Physicians, emergency contraception is an essential part of the physical and psychological care of rape victims, and denying it is outside of the standard of care.

The Connecticut EC in the ER Bill was raised last legislative session in an effort to amend this problem of incomplete care for rape victims. Unfortunately, the bill never made it out of committee, and the issue remains unresolved. This year, the bill is coming up again as the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims Bill. This bill would require all state-funded hospitals in Connecticut to provide a rape victim with information about and access to emergency contraception as a standard part of emergency care. The Public Health Committee must be prevailed upon to raise this bill to the state legislature in order to get rape victims the care they need in the emergency room.

Many claim that Catholic hospitals have the right to refuse to offer emergency contraception if it interferes with a hospital’s religious convictions. Regardless of their religious affiliations, however, these hospitals are funded by the state, and therefore should treat patients based on the religious and ethical views of the patients themselves rather than imposing a religious view. Hospitals would not even need to pay for emergency contraception themselves. The Department of Criminal Justice in Connecticut reimburses hospitals for the immediate treatment of rape victims and evidence collection, which would include the cost of emergency contraception.

In addition, there is little reason for EC to be so controversial. Emergency contraception is composed of a higher dosage of the hormones found in oral contraceptive birth control pills, and it has nothing to do with the abortion pill, RU-486. While RU-486 terminates an existing pregnancy, EC merely prevents unintended pregnancy before it occurs by preventing ovulation, preventing sperm from reaching the egg, or preventing implantation. EC is simply another form of birth control, and if taken soon after assault, it can significantly reduce the amount of trauma that a rape victim must endure.

Because it is preventative birth control, EC is more effective the sooner it is taken after sexual assault. For this reason, it is necessary for hospitals to provide a rape victim with emergency contraception in the emergency room. The time-sensitive nature of EC makes it nearly impossible for a woman to find another hospital or pharmacy to provide her with EC after she has found a hospital, waited for care, and undergone the exam and evidence-collection process in the emergency room.

The bottom line of the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims bill is just that — compassionate care. Women who have been the victims of rape have experienced enough trauma, and they deserve the most comprehensive and compassionate care that hospitals can offer. They do not need the judgment of hospital employees, the forced acceptance of religious beliefs, or the obstacles of time or money interfering with their immediate and complete care.

The General Assembly of Connecticut has an absolute duty to make sure that rape victims receive the care they need and deserve, and we as their constituents must express our support for the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims Bill.

Rachel Criswell is a senior in Branford College. She is a member of the Reproductive Rights Action League of Yale College and an intern for Planned Parenthood.

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