Bill could change hospital procedures of sexual assault victims

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Capital News Service
LANSING –Emergency rooms and urgent care centers would be forced to offer emergency contraception to sexual assault victims, if a recent bill is passed.
Such a bill has been proposed for more than a decade.
Last session the bill was passed in the House, said Sarah Scranton, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. “We’re certainly in favor of it.”
But she acknowledged it would be hard to get it passed.
“In this environment right now in Lansing, it’s particularly hostile for women’s health,” Scranton said. “I’m not certain that we’ll see [the bill] move, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to work with coalition partners and friends in the Legislature to try to move the bill.”
Planned Parenthood considers a large majority of both chambers anti-choice and anti-birth control, Scranton said.
“When you have a majority of the members, the leaders in both the house and the senate, that feel that way, it is hard to move any sort of proactive policy that would really improve women’s health and reduce unintended pregnancies,” she said.
This bill is part of a larger package focused on women’s health. The Senate and House Health Policy Committees are reviewing the bill; Planned Parenthood hopes to get a hearing.
Current legislation allows hospitals to decide whether to make emergency contraception available to its patients. If the bill passes, it would be required.
The Michigan Catholic Conference believes the bill violates the institutional conscience of religious organizations, said Dave Maluchnik, Michigan Catholic Conference director of communications. Those hospitals need to operate under a faith-based mission.
“There are serious religious freedom questions that should be addressed with this type of legislation,” he said.
A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault according to Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Maluchnik said. If there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent fertilization.
“Bottom line, Catholic hospitals should be permitted to conduct appropriate testing to ensure conception has not taken place before the drug is administered,” Maluchnik said.
If fertilization has not taken place, Catholic hospitals will offer the emergency contraception.
Offering victims emergency contraception seems like it should be a standard part of treating sexual assault victims, said Kristi Byron, women’s studies professor at Michigan State University.
“It seems like a no-brainer,” she said.
Sparrow Hospitals across Michigan favor the bill, said John Shaski, government relations officer for Sparrow Health System. Offering emergency contraception to sexual assault victims seems as routine as testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
If contraception isn’t available at the time of the initial hospital examination, victims of sexual assault may opt for an abortion later in the pregnancy, Byron said.
This bill could help prevent that crisis, she said.
Much like last session, Right to Life of Michigan remains neutral on the issue.
“Right to Life of Michigan does not have a policy regarding contraception. Our focus is on the life issue,” said Pam Sherstad, Right to Life of Michigan, director of public information.
The bill sponsor, Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, was unavailable for comment.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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