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Catholics Hospitals Skirting the Law on Providing EC to Rape Victims

February 2, 2006

New study by Catholics for a Free Choice reveals that women’s best options are not Catholic hospitals, even in states with “EC in the ER” legislation

WASHINGTON, DC—Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) today released a survey raising serious questions about how well Catholic hospitals are complying with the law in states that have “EC in the ER” laws.

The survey, “Complying with the Law? How Catholic hospitals respond to state laws mandating the provision of emergency contraception to sexual assault patients,” was conducted by Ibis Reproductive Health for CFFC.  The report includes both an overview of hospital policies and a “mystery caller survey” to determine whether Catholic hospital emergency rooms that are compelled by law to provide EC are doing so, and under what circumstances.  At the time of this study, California, New Mexico, New York and Washington had explicit state laws or administrative guidelines requiring that victims of sexual assault should be counseled about and provided with emergency contraception upon request.  South Carolina had a statute specifying that the state would pay for the costs of routine care for sexual assault patients, including emergency contraception.

The study shows that—despite the law and even sometimes hospital policy—those taking calls from patients at Catholic hospitals report that EC is not available at their hospital for sexual assault patients 35 percent of the time.

“The results were mixed at best, and devastating at worst,” said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice.  “Women of many different religions seek emergency care at Catholic hospitals in part because of their reputation for compassionate, quality care.  That the Catholic hospitals we surveyed would turn women away in their time of need, that they would deny women who have been sexually assaulted full information or access to essential services like emergency contraception is not only a violation of the law, it is a violation of their mission.”

Among the respondents to the mystery caller survey, only about half (53%) gave the caller the name and telephone number of another facility where EC might be available.  Just half of those referrals (53%) actually lead to a facility that provides EC.  And despite state laws designed to enhance access to EC in Washington and California, few respondents referred callers in those states to a pharmacy where the patient could obtain EC without a physician’s prescription.

Other Key Findings:

    • Callers felt that 20% of respondents had a negative attitude towards them, which included being evasive, hanging up on them or scolding them.
    • Only 62% of the Catholic hospitals reported treating sexual assault patients.
  • Of these, 76% have a written EC protocol, 95% routinely provided EC counseling and 86% routinely offered EC.
    • Among Catholic hospitals that reported treating sexual assault patients, only 51% also indicated in the mystery client survey that EC was available; the other half either misinformed callers or did not know about the availability of EC.
  • In almost a third of cases (30%) responses were contradictory; the hospital policy respondent indicated that EC was provided, but the mystery client respondent reported differently.

“Clearly, it’s time for a staff meeting,” said Kissling.  “Hospital administrations have a responsibility to comply with the law, and also have a higher calling to provide care to their patients in need.  It seems many are falling down on both counts.”

“Complying with the Law?” is a follow up to CFFC’s 2002 nationwide survey, “Second Chance Denied,” in which every Catholic emergency room was polled on its policies and practices regarding EC.  At that time, only five percent of the emergency rooms provided EC upon request, and an additional 23 percent of Catholic emergency rooms provided EC to rape victims only.  In this follow up, it was disturbing to note that 20 percent of hospital respondents in California, 19 percent in Washington and nine percent in New York who reported that EC was available during the 2002 survey now report that EC is not available under any circumstances.

To view “Complying with the Law?” , see here

To order a hard copies, see here