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Legislative Memo: Emergency Contraception for Rape Survivors

This bill would require all hospital emergency rooms to offer emergency contraception to rape survivors seeking treatment after a rape. While medical authorities have stated that emergency contraception (“EC”) should be offered routinely in rape treatment, many New York State hospitals fail to consistently make available EC to women who have been raped.

The bill would ensure that rape survivors are given access to and information about effective pregnancy prevention treatment, thereby preventing further trauma from unwanted pregnancy as a result of the rape. The NYCLU supports women’s access to the full range of emergency and reproductive health care following a rape, and urges passage of this bill.

The bill would mandate all hospitals that provide emergency medical treatment to give advice verbally regarding the availability of emergency contraception (EC) to all women who receive emergency care after a rape; it would require such hospitals to provide EC upon request to all such patients, immediately and on site; it would direct the Commissioner of Health to develop informational materials in multiple languages on the nature and effectiveness of EC, including information that EC cannot and does not cause abortions, for distribution to all such hospitals; and it would require all such hospitals to provide these patients with the written materials prepared by the Commissioner.

The NYCLU suggests that an explicit enforcement mechanism be added to ensure that the Department of Health monitors compliance with the bill’s requirements by hospitals.

Emergency contraceptive pills, high doses of oral contraceptives, are FDA-approved as a safe and effective means of preventing pregnancy following unprotected sex and should not be confused with mifepristone (RU-486), an FDA-approved drug for early abortion. EC works by preventing ovulation, fertilization, or implantation. It does not disrupt an established pregnancy, which the medical community defines as beginning at implantation.

EC has been proven highly effective in preventing unintended pregnancy when taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse; it is most effective when taken within 12 hours. In fact, studies estimate that 22,000 of the 25,000 pregnancies resulting from rape each year may be prevented by the timely administration of EC.

Some healthcare institutions, invoking religious objections, refuse to provide EC on the grounds that it may interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg. As noted above, this position is contradicted by medical science. The NYCLU is a staunch defender of religious liberty; however, an institution’s religious objections to EC must not imperil a rape survivor’s access to timely and comprehensive emergency treatment. Emergency rooms — whether religiously affiliated or not — are professionally and ethically obligated to offer the accepted standard of care to anyone in need of emergency care following a rape.

Refusing to offer this care will serve to further traumatize the rape victim by forcing her to travel to multiple facilities to receive the full course of care; by delaying treatment, which significantly reduces EC’s effectiveness; or by failing to prevent a pregnancy by her rapist altogether.

In short, a hospital’s failure to provide EC leaves women at risk of becoming pregnant as a result of a rape. This is bad medicine and bad public policy. The proposed legislation would ensure that emergency contraception is recognized as an essential element in the standard of care when treating rape survivors. For the reasons state above, the NYCLU urges the legislature to pass A.15/S.202.

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