Connecticut Bishops Back Down over Provision of Emergency Contraception
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, issued the following statement:
“After a two-year battle with the state’s lawmakers, the Catholic bishops of Connecticut have agreed to provide emergency contraception to women who seek treatment at Catholic hospitals after a sexual assault. It’s a shame that the bishops had to be forced into providing basic health care at the state’s four Catholic hospitals. For many women, especially poor women, Catholic emergency rooms act as a primary health provider. Following a sexual assault, a very difficult situation is made worse by the fact that most Catholic hospitals say they do not offer emergency contraception, a step that many health-care providers consider routine.
“It’s doubly disappointing that women in Connecticut have had to wait so long for this concession as the bishops’ own directives clearly allow the provision of EC after a sexual assault. Directive 36 of the US bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services—a set of guidelines for Catholic health-care providers—allows for the provision of EC after rape as a way of permitting “A female who has been raped [to] defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault.”
“The directive permits the use of EC when a woman “is the victim of sexual assault” and “if, after appropriate testing there is no indication that she is pregnant.” This latter guideline, one the bishops were insisting was included in the new law, is unnecessary and unworkable as no pregnancy test can show if a woman has conceived within the 72-hour window for EC.
“In a recent survey carried out by Catholics for a Free Choice, we found that only 28 percent of Catholic ERs provide women who have been raped with EC. Among those Catholic hospitals that do provide EC to rape victims, the majority set up unnecessary barriers, such as pregnancy tests or police reports. Some hospitals (six percent) indicated that the decision about providing EC was left to the attending physician. With good luck, a woman who had been raped might be seen by an attending physician who would provide EC, but there are no guarantees.
“Connecticut bishops had to be forced to provide adequate health care. It may be too much to hope that other bishops would do the same voluntarily.”