ACLU Strongly Supports Emergency Contraception For Sexual Assault Victims; Calls it Crucial Component of Effective Health Care for Women

March 21, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed its strong support for legislation that would require hospitals that receive federal funds to provide emergency contraception to survivors of sexual assault, care that the ACLU said is essential to protect against unwanted pregnancies and to ensure reproductive freedom for rape survivors.

“This is an exceptionally forward thinking bill that would provide a crucial boost to women’s health and reproductive rights,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “Tens of thousands of women become pregnant every year from rape or incest. This bill would drastically reduce that number by forcing hospitals to make available essential emergency contraception.”

The bipartisan legislation, called the “Compassionate Care for Female Sexual Assault Survivors Act” and introduced by Reps. Constance Morella (R-MD) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY), would require all hospitals receiving federal funds to provide, in the emergency room, information about and access to emergency contraception for survivors of sexual assault. Currently, many hospitals do not provide emergency contraception and others fail even to inform women that it is available.

Emergency contraception, also known as post-coital contraception or – somewhat misleadingly – the “morning after” pill, has been proven highly effective in preventing unintended pregnancy when taken no more than 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. Contrary to some claims, the medication does not induce abortion. Emergency contraception should not be confused with mifepristone, or RU-486, an FDA-approved drug for abortion in the first 49 days of gestation.

The ACLU said passage of this bill is so crucial because, currently, survivors of sexual assault who are not offered emergency contraception during their initial treatment at the hospital must either obtain it directly from an outside doctor or obtain a prescription and then find a pharmacy – a process that can often take more than 72 hours.

“A bill to ensure that sexual assault survivors can obtain emergency contraception in the hospital is long overdue,” Murphy said. “The top medical minds in this country agree that emergency contraception is the only effective method of preventing pregnancy after unprotected intercourse, including rape. Religious or other objections should not outweigh the interests of these victims and their access to basic emergency care.”

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