Emergency contraception is the least we can do

Easy access to emergency contraception is the least that sexual assualt victims deserve when they turn to hospitals for help.

Abby Bar-Lev

Two weeks ago my column began by attesting that spring was finally arriving in Minneapolis. The weather served as an analogy for optimism and a springing forward for women’s rights in Minnesota. Perhaps predictably, the warmth lasted all but a couple days, though the optimism lives on.

The Minnesota Legislature passed through both the House and Senate committees the Compassionate Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act. That means that the bill will be up for a full vote on the floors of both chambers. This is a great step forward for Minnesota women, regardless of whether spring is following step.

The Compassionate Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act is a commonsense piece of legislation written to protect the most vulnerable women at one of their most vulnerable times.

When women enter emergency rooms after a sexual assault, they do not need someone else’s morals and ethics shoved down their throats; they need emergency contraception. According to NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, “The bill will require all hospitals in Minnesota to offer emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infection treatment to all victims of sexual assault that turn to them for help.”

It is abhorrent enough that women continue to be denied birth control from pharmacists who choose to put their beliefs over a woman’s rights. It is nearly unfathomable that an emergency facility would neglect easy access to emergency contraception for women following a trauma. The fact that emergency contraception cannot cause an abortion – rather, it prevents a pregnancy from taking place within 72 hours of sex – makes its denial to sexual assault victims that much more irrational.

Despite the seemingly obvious and reasonable nature of both the Compassionate Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act and birth control, women continue to be denied family planning means. Insurance often covers Viagra but does not necessarily cover birth control (in other words insurance covers men’s ability to have sex, but not women’s decision to prevent pregnancy). It is often the people who most vehemently oppose access to abortion who also most vehemently oppose access to family planning measures. After all, it has taken six years alone for the Compassionate Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act to come near fruition.

Near fruition, however, is still quite distant from fruition itself. Pressuring legislators is key to making this bill a reality. If you do not know who represents you, take a minute to visit this website http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/Districtfinder.asp to find your legislators and write them a quick note urging their support for the Compassionate Care for Sexual Assaults Victims Act.

Every two-and-a-half minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. According to a 2003 Minnesota Office of Justice Programs fact sheet, there is a sexual assault every 83 minutes in Minnesota. A 2003 Student Health and Safety Survey conducted at the University of Minnesota found that nearly 8 percent of college females here have experienced sexual assault or abuse in the past academic year alone.

As we work to reduce the numbers of victims of sexual assault, the least we can do – the easiest and most rational thing we can do – is to ensure that victims of sexual assault are guaranteed emergency contraception when they enter the hospital doors.

Abby Bar-Lev welcomes comments at [email protected]