Guest blogger: Julie Petrella, Director, Duvall Reproductive Rights Project of the ACLU of PA
Yesterday’s Harrisburg Patriot News had an appalling article about a rape victim in Lebanon County whose ER doctor refused to prescribe her emergency contraception (a higher dose of regular birth control pills) because of his religious beliefs. The victim was eventually able to obtain a prescription from her gynecologist, only to find that the local pharmacy was out of the medication. She had to travel from eastern Lebanon County to Reading to get the prescription filled.
To add insult to injury, here’s what Dr. Joe Kearns, former medical director of Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon, had to say:
“People drive to Reading to buy jeans. Even if that were the case, that you had to drive to Reading to get this [prescription], to me that does not rise to a compulsion that you have to pass laws that [doctors] have to do something.”
I am struggling to understand how a woman–who has just been raped!–would find a trip to Reading to get a prescription for emergency contraception (EC) similar to a road trip she might take with her girlfriends to buy a new pair of jeans.
The notion of some healthcare providers that their refusal to provide a crucial, time-sensitive medication to prevent pregnancy is merely an expression of their personally-held religious beliefs and of little consequence to their patient is false. Healthcare providers have a professional obligation to their patients-an obligation that trumps their own personally-held beliefs and requires that they act in accordance with the beliefs of their patients. Creating obstacles for women to prevent pregnancy after a sexual assault is cruel and deplorable.
A woman who has recently been raped, who has suffered physical and emotional trauma, and who is fraught with worry about being impregnated by her attacker would probably find that an extra 45 minute drive (if you have a car!) to another pharmacy is not exactly a fun road trip. I’d even be so bold to say that the woman might feel re-victimized by the systems in place designed to care for her after her trauma, as they have forced her to take additional steps to get EC. One might presume that someone in the health care profession would be in tune to this. Sadly, in Pennsylvania and across the U.S., health care providers are acting in ways that harm their patients rather than help them.
When physicians, pharmacists, and other health care professionals protest the passage of state laws that would ensure comprehensive medical care for rape patients in hospital emergency rooms-including the option to receive emergency contraception–they ignore their own hypocrisy. They don’t want the government to force them to provide services they don’t believe with but want to deny services to their patients that their patient believes in.
In typical Daily Show form, Jason Jones highlighted this double-standard when he interviewed an Illinois pharmacist, Ron Stevens, in an episode this past winter. Mr. Stevens felt victimized by Illinois law requiring him to fill prescriptions for the morning-after pill and stated, “I think the governor is forcing my hand on this issue.” Jason Jones retorts, “How dare the government make a moral judgment over you?! You’re the one supposed to be doing that to the woman!”
Until Pennsylvania passes legislation like the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies (CARE) Act, emergency room doctors will continue to be afforded the opportunity to pass moral judgment over women in their most vulnerable states.
If you’d like to find out if your local emergency room provides emergency contraception to rape victims and what you can do on this issue, click here.