ANNAPOLIS – All hospitals and health care facilities would be required to tell rape survivors about the “morning-after pill” under a bill heard Thursday in a House committee.
The bill, sponsored by Delegate Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, would mandate hospitals and health care facilities provide the pregnancy-blocking medication upon a rape victim’s request or a referral to a place where it is available.
“Many health care facilities that provide emergency treatment to rape survivors fail to provide, or even mention, emergency contraception as a treatment option,” said Judith DeSarno, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association.
Emergency contraception was declared safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997. Unlike mifepristone (RU-486), which induces abortion, the morning-after pill prevents ovulation, fertilization and implantation. When taken within 72 hours of being raped, the morning-after pill is 75 to 89 percent effective. Within 12 hours, it is 99.5 percent effective.
“Abortion is about ending a pregnancy,” said Kagan. “Emergency contraception is about preventing a pregnancy. This bill will help to reduce the number of abortions. We all want to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.”
Each year, more than 32,000 women become pregnant through rape, and at least half of the pregnancies end in abortion. Only 11 percent of women have heard of the morning-after pill, are aware of its ability and know it must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, said DeSarno.
“Given this lack of knowledge, it is even more crucial that health care providers counsel rape survivors about their risk of pregnancy, provide them with medically accurate written and oral information about their options, and offer them emergency contraception,” she said.
The Virginia Senate and House chambers recently voted to allow women access to the morning-after pill without a prescription. In December, the American Medical Association asked the FDA to follow suit. Additionally, more than 60 medical groups and women’s health organizations submitted a “Citizen’s Petition” to the FDA in January asking them to make the morning-after pill available over the counter.
However, Kagan said her bill is much narrower. She wants to make sure rape victims receive information about emergency contraception and have access to it.
“What’s not happening today is information being provided at every hospital,” said Kagan. “There’s nothing that compels them.”
While emergency contraception for rape victims is permissible under the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Kagan’s bill includes a conscience clause, which allows hospitals to refer the female to another emergency contraception provider.
“The availability of emergency contraception will not eliminate the development of rape-related, post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Aimee Darrow of Baltimore, an incest survivor. “However, it will provide information and relief to women who have survived this traumatic event.”