Hospitals could be required to provide emergency contraception
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Hospitals could be required to provide emergency contraception

Date: March 9, 2011
By: Christi Warren
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 636 CHAUSA Report PDF Princeton Report PDF

JEFFERSON CITY - In a hearing Wednesday, the House Committee on Children and Families heard a bill that would require hospitals to provide emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault.  

The bill, which has been called the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act, will ensure that 100 percent of Missouri hospitals and health care facilities have the drug in stock at all times.  According to Paige Sweet of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights league, in a study completed in 2009, the amount of hospitals in the state of Missouri that currently stock emergency contraception is just less than 50 percent.

The patient would not be required to take the emergency contraceptive, but the hospital would be required to inform her of its availability.

Reverend Pat Vollertsen's daughter Amanda Vollertsen was the victim of a sexual assault that resulted in pregnancy. Pat Vollertsen, a constituent from St. Louis, testified in favor of the bill on behalf of her daughter, who has a developmental disability.

"Had we had this offered to us, Amanda would not be afraid of people," Pat Vollertsen said. "She might even have a boyfriend. She would be a different person now with much less fear in her life." 

The pregnancy threatened Amanda Vollertsen's life, and because of the moratorium on abortion that existed in the state of Missouri at that time, her family was forced to travel to Kansas for her abortion procedure; Pat Vollertsen describes the experience as "the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my whole life."

Emergency contraceptive, commonly known as "the morning after pill," prevents ovulation and inhibits fertilization. 

According to a 1999 report by the Princeton Office of Population Research, the pill is known to reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent if taken within the first 72 to 100 hours after unprotected sex.

The Missouri Catholic Conference is among the organizations that testified against the bill. Tyler McClay, who serves as the conference's general counsel, spoke at the hearing.

"The directives (of the church) say that it is not morally permissible to initiate or recommend treatments that have as their purpose, or direct effect, the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum,"  McClay said. 

Though during the hearing, bill sponsor, Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis City referred to emergency contraceptive as "Plan B," the type of contraceptive which will be offered by hospitals is not clearly stated in the bill.  Oxford said she hopes the bill can evolve to clarify which specific type of contraceptive would be used.

Plan B, the drug referenced by Oxford during the hearing, works by providing a large dose of the hormone levonorgestrel. According to a report by the Catholic Health Association of the United States, there is no data which supports the idea that levonorgestrel acts by preventing embryonic implantation. 

"These articles attempt to answer the question, is emergency contraceptive an abortifacient," Oxford said of the CHAUSA report. "It is not." 

Colleen Coble, CEO of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence spoke in support of the bill.

"It is not a time or an issue for political divides," Coble said.  "It's a time to respond to the needs in our community. And quite frankly, the women and girls in the state need our help."

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