New law provides access to emergency contraception

Such access has been an issue elsewhere in the state, but not typically at the “U.” EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a series that looks at how new Minnesota laws affect the University.

Liz Riggs

Under a new law that first went into effect in August, all Minnesota hospitals are now required to provide sexual assault victims unbiased information about emergency contraception and access to drugs such as Plan B, commonly called “the morning-after pill.”

The Compassionate Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act also requires male and female patients be provided with “accurate and unbiased” information about prophylactic antibiotics, which can be used to prevent infection associated with sexually transmitted infections.

If a patient requesting the antibiotics can safely take them, he or she is entitled to medication, according to the language of the law.

Amber Schneider, the legal advocacy and direct services coordinator at the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, said although providing patients with access to emergency contraception and prophylactic antibiotics has not typically been a problem with the hospitals near campus, it is still an important piece of legislation.

“It means (students) have access to emergency contraceptives not just here, but at home,” she said.

Jill Lipski, the violence prevention education coordinator at the Aurora Center, said just because the issue of access might not have been a problem in the University area, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a problem throughout the rest of the state.

“I’d say that’s a rather privileged experience,” Lipski said.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, one of the chief authors of the Compassionate Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act, said she first introduced the legislation seven years ago, because there was a problem with access to such resources.

“A majority of our hospitals were not offering it,” Pappas said.

Pappas said over the years, resistance to the legislation came in large part from some Catholic hospitals who opposed the act for ideological reasons.

According to a clause in the Compassionate Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act, hospitals can administer pregnancy tests.

If the pregnancy test is positive, the emergency contraception provision is no longer applicable, though patients are still entitled to information and access to prophylactic antibiotics.

Pappas said the clause was added as a political maneuver, to appease those who were concerned about administering emergency contraceptives to someone who was already pregnant. She said if a woman is already pregnant, the drug has “no affect whatsoever,” so it wasn’t a difficult concession to make.

“It was kind of a feel-good thing. It didn’t hurt to do it,” Pappas said.

Representatives from the Aurora Center said the fact that the legislation specifically addresses equal access, for both men and women, to information about prophylactic antibiotics was particularly noteworthy.

“The language is inclusive of all survivors,” Lipski said.

The Aurora Center, which provides advocacy and education about sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking for both victims and the University community at large, works at a university level to develop and help shape policy within the campus setting, Lipski said.

Local Support

All three University-area legislators supported the bill during the 2007 legislative session. Kahn and Loeffler were both added as House authors of the bill in March.

Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said she supported the Compassionate Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act because it was “just a really intelligent thing to do.

“It’s one of the things that was a bright spot in the Legislature,” Kahn said.