Thursday, March 15, 2007

Colorado Governor Signs Legislation to Require Hospitals to Inform Rape Victims of Emergency Contraception

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law today a bill requiring hospitals to inform patients who are victims of sexual assault of the availability of emergency contraception. The bill, passed in the Colorado Senate as SB 07-060 [PDF], states:
"All health care facilities that are licensed pusuant to this Part 1 and provide emergency care to seual assualt survivors shall amend their evidence collection protocols for the treatment of sexual assault survivors to include informing the survivor in a timely manner of the availability of emergency contraception as a means of prophylaxis and educating the survivor on the proper use of emergency contraception and the appropriate follow-up care."
It does allow healthcare providers to refuse to provide information about emergency contraception "on the basis of religious or moral beliefs," and does not require providers to provide emergency contraception if they determine that there is no risk of pregnancy or the victim was already pregnant at the time of the assault. The legislation calls it "critical" that victims have accurate information about the availability and use of emergency contraception, so "encourages" but does not require victim assistance/counseling and rape crisis hotlines to provice information on EC and for pharmacies in the state to distribute EC information. Further, the bill requires pharmacies that do not have the drug in stock to prominently place a sign reading, "Plan B Emergency Contraception Not Available."

The findings (or, the rationale) for the legislation included the following points:
  • One of every six women in the United States and one of every four women in Colorado will be the victim of a sexual assault
  • Forty-four percent of the victims of a sexual assault are under eighteen years of age, and eighty percent of the victims of a sexual assault are under thirty years of age
  • It is estimated that sixty percent of all sexual assaults are not reported
  • A woman who is the survivor of a sexual assault may face the additional trauma of an unwanted pregnancy or the fear that pregnancy may result
  • Each year, between twenty-five thousand and thirty-two thousand women in the United States become pregnant as a result of sexual assaults, and approximately twenty-two thousand of these pregnancies could be prevented if these women used emergency contraception

    The findings go on to cite recommendations for EC information provision, and the drug's safety and efficacy in preventing unintended pregnancy. This legislation correctly locates EC, given the scientific evidence, as a means of preventing, but not terminating, a pregnancy. Previous Governor Bill Owens vetoed a similar bill in spring of 2004. When Ritter ran for the Governor's seat, he included a platform of reducing unintended pregnancies through better family planning, better access to health care including birth control and emergency contraception, providing responsible sex education, and promoting adoption. Ritter also stated, "Improving education, health care and our economy - which will be the top priorities for my administration - will do more to improve the lives of children and reduce the number of abortions in our country than a divisive focus on punishing the women who find themselves turning to it as a solution."
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