FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today, along with a broad coalition of sexual assault groups, religious leaders, and women’s health advocates, criticized the U.S. Department of Justice’s refusal to release records pertaining to the department’s failure to include any reference to emergency contraception in the first-ever national protocol for treating sexual assault victims.
States Must Ensure Rape Victims' Access to Emergency Contraception (1/19/2006)
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Rape Survivor Treatment Lacks Pregnancy Prevention (1/6/05)
“The government’s refusal to turn over documents that could shed light on why the national protocol fails to include essential information on preventing pregnancy begs the question, ‘What are they trying to hide?’” said Louise Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
Research shows that if emergency facilities routinely provide emergency contraception to rape victims, up to 22,000 of the 25,000 pregnancies that result from rape each year could be prevented. Nevertheless, late last year, the Department of Justice released the first-ever national protocol for treating sexual assault victims and failed to mention emergency contraception or recommend that it be routinely offered to women who have been raped.
In August of this year, following news reports that information about pregnancy prevention and emergency contraception was removed from the final protocol, the ACLU, on behalf of a broad coalition, sent a Freedom of Information Act request asking the Justice Department to provide records pertaining to the removal of the information.
Instead of providing earlier drafts of the protocol and other responsive materials, the Justice Department sent the ACLU a set of documents used to help develop a preliminary national protocol, including treatment recommendations from the American College of Emergency Physicians, several state protocols, and a copy of an article on forensic evidence collection. All of these documents, unlike the national protocol, discuss pregnancy prevention in detail. Most either provide instructions for prescribing emergency contraception or specifically recommend that emergency contraception be offered to rape victims.
“Clearly, the Justice Department reviewed documents highlighting the importance of helping sexual assault victims prevent pregnancy,” said Melling. “In light of this evidence, it is troubling that the protocols remain silent on the issue and fail to protect women.”
In its request, the ACLU represented a coalition of groups, including Christians for Justice Action, Family Planning Advocates of New York State, MergerWatch, Montana Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Council of Jewish Women, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, among others.
Emergency contraception, often referred to as “the morning-after pill,” reduces the risk of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent if the first dose is taken within days of unprotected intercourse, but it is more effective the sooner it is taken.
Samples of relevant portions of the documents provided by the Justice Department are available online at www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/religion/23118lgl20051220.html.
For information about sexual assault survivors’ experiences obtaining emergency contraception, visit www.RaisingHerVoice.org, a project of the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.