Emergency Contraception - March 2003

Denver Women's Commission
Emergency Contraception - March 2003

March 11, 2003
Prepared by Chaer Robert
For Colorado Woman News

Emergency Contraception

Your friend has just been raped. She called you to go with her to the hospital. A hundred questions race through your mind. How can I help support her emotionally? How badly is she hurt? Will the police get her assailant? Will there be enough proof to lock him up? Will she be safe? Can she feel safe again? Could he have infected her with AIDS? Can she get pregnant?

More than 25,000 American women each year become pregnant through rape. Of those, about 32 % choose to keep the baby, about 12 % miscarry, about 6% relinquish the baby for adoption and about 50% choose abortion.

But 22,000 of the pregnancies could have been prevented if the woman used emergency contraception (EC), the “morning after” pill. Most effective when taken within the first 12 hours after sexual intercourse, it can prevent pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected sex.

So why don’t more rape victims use the morning after pill? Only 13% of women know how to use emergency contraception. While 52% have heard of it, 34% have never heard of it. Many confuse it with RU 486- mifepristone-the abortion pill. But it is really high-dose birth control pills. Indeed regular birth control pills can be used, with different dosing, for emergency contraception.

EC does not cause abortion if a woman is currently pregnant. Rather it generally acts by preventing ovulation or preventing a fertilized egg (egg-sperm combination) from implanting in her uterus. Pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg has implanted in a woman’s uterus.

Rep. Betty Boyd’s HB 1252 – Emergency Contraception for Sexual Assault Survivors, recommends that all hospital emergency rooms who see rape victims tell them about, and provide, EC. Indeed this is the standard of care of the American Medical Association. But not all hospitals or health care providers do inform victims. Why not? Either because the providers themselves are unfamiliar with EC, or because the hospital or provider has religious reservations about EC.

During the bill’s hearing before the State’s House Committee on State, Veteran and Military Affairs, the ten male and one female representative heard testimony from Jill McFarland, Executive Director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She testified that about 300,000 U.S. woman are sexually assaulted each year and that 1 of 4 Colorado woman has experience sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Rep. Shawn Mitchell and Rep. Dave Schultheis questioned the source and veracity of the statistics. The former figure was a National Institute of Justice figure and the later was from a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment survey.

The next witness was Dr. Richard Hoffman, who for many years was Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer and recently concluded a term as Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood’s Interim CEO. He described how EC works. Rep. Schultheis and Rep. Kevin Lundberg questioned him in depth, concluding that because, sometimes, EC works by preventing the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, it was, by their definition—abortion. Rep. Schultheis called the medical definition of pregnancy a political decision by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

At the end of the odd, but fair, hearing, the committee voted to strike the legislative declaration—the statistics documenting the magnitude of sexual assault and resulting pregnancies. In a stunning victory from the unlikely committee, the committee then passed the bill 6 to 5, with committee chair Rep. Sinclair and Rep. Rob Fairbank joining Democratic Representatives Frangas, Ragsdale, Weissmann, and Weddig to pass the bill. Republicans Rep. Cadman, Lundberg, May, Mitchell and Schultheis voted against the bill. The bill then moved to the House Floor, where it is as of this writing.

Emergency Contraception: the 2003 Resource Guide for Colorado is available online in English and Spanish from www.conaral.org or call Colorado NARAL 303-394-1973.They also can provide speakers to groups on the subject. 24-hour toll-free hotline 1-888-NOT-2-LATE can also direct women to providers who will prescribe EC, or check with your local Planned Parenthood.