Emergency rooms in Washington state hospitals will now be required to provide emergency contraception (EC) to victims of rape. The bill, which was signed into law last week by Washington governor Gary Locke (D), establishes a statewide protocol for treating rape survivors in hospital emergency rooms. At issue, however, are the state’s Catholic hospitals and their willingness to comply with the law. Two Catholic hospitals in Spokane announced that it had been their policy to administer EC in emergency situations to rape survivors, but victim advocates assert that few patients actually receive EC at these Catholic hospitals. Advocates claim that women may not be informed that EC is an option and that those who inquire about EC have sometimes been ignored.
Women’s rights advocates are hoping that the new law will increase access to EC. Already in Washington, women can obtain the pills from pharmacists without a physician’s prescription. Only two other states have similar policies: California and Alaska.
EC can prevent unintended pregnancy if taken within 72-hours of intercourse. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, there are 3 million unintended pregnancies in the US each year. EC has the potential to cut the number of unintended pregnancies in half and prevent as many as 800,000 abortions each year. The Feminist Majority Foundation has launched a nationwide campaign to make EC available over-the-counter throughout the U.S. and to mainstream access to the pills on college campuses. To learn more, visit www.PrescribeChoice.org.