Abortion: Could GOP Bill Prevent Rape Victims From Accessing Emergency Contraception?

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A bill that got its first round of approval yesterday in the Missouri House says that anyone providing medical services can't be required to perform procedures that "violate his or her conscience or principles." At the center of this bill is a debate around abortion. But would the proposal block access to emergency contraception for rape victims?

Depends on who you ask.

Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri and other advocates have been spreading the word about the potential harms of the bill and how it could prevent women from accessing important health care options -- even victims of rape.

But what does the bill's sponsor, House Speaker Tim Jones, have to say about this question?

Jones, a Republican from Eureka, was not available for an interview yesterday and his staff declined to offer a specific comment in response to this question -- but did forward Daily RFT a segment from the hearing yesterday in which Representative Karla May, a St. Louis Democrat, brought up this very concern.

She asks: "If I came into the emergency room and I had just been raped and I asked for emergency...contraception, would there be somebody there that doesn't have a religious conscience against giving me what I feel I need and what I think is my right under law?"

Tim Jones - VIA
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  • Tim Jones

Jones responds, "You're asking me if you'd be able to obtain that procedure?"

"Would I be able to obtain emergency contraception?" May says.

"Absolutely, this bill would not prevent that," Jones replies.

House Bill 457, as written:

specifies that any medical professional or health care institution that provides medical services, has the right not to participate in and cannot be required to participate in any phase of patient medical care, treatment, or procedure that violates his or her conscience including his or her religious, moral, or ethical principles that are adherent to a sincere and meaningful belief in God or in relation to a supreme being.

Continue for more details on the proposal and response from advocates.

The full draft proposal, on view below, defines "specified medical procedures or research" as "abortion, abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, sterilization which is not medically necessary, assisted reproduction, human cloning, human embryonic stem-cell research, human somatic cell nuclear transfer, fetal tissue research, and nontherapeutic fetal experimentation."

To pro-choice advocates pushing against the GOP bill, which has come up in various forms in the past, it's clear that this would allow medical professionals to deny basic services that women, by law, are entitled to -- even emergency contraception in instances of rape.

"Honestly, this is exacerbating," Pamela Sumners, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, tells Daily RFT. "Maybe you got raped and you live in Randolph County and nobody there is dispensing emergency contraception to you or even offering it. You've got to go fifty miles away and what if your car is broken down? Here you are and you don't even have a referral to a pharmacy that dispenses emergency contraception."

Pamela Sumners. - VIA
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  • Pamela Sumners.

She says, "These ideas that people have that somebody's abstract, theological view trumps actual human beings on earth, it just baffles me that anybody thinks that this is what Christ wants."

Sumners says that this bill seems perhaps more expansive than similar proposals in the past, but adds, "I'm never surprised by anything anymore.... I really think this is simply scoring political points on the cheap and getting your right-to-life rating."

Pro-choice advocates also argue that the bill threatens to limit basic services for women facing serious health risks or even death in certain cases.

In his testimony sent to us yesterday, Jones pushes back against critics, saying that they don't understand the bill and are spreading misinformation:

I would challenge those who decided to do fear-mongering on this floor instead of inquiring of me to inquire of me and I'll explain the bill to you, because you obviously haven't read it. For those who inquired of me, I explained...and I clarified every single provision to any member who was opposed to this bill and they pretty much said, 'Okay, I understand now.' ... The issue of emergency is fully covered in this bill. No one who is in an emergency situation will have this bill applied to them. Throw the bill out. It will not apply. Emergency contraception also will not apply. That was the crux of the fear-mongering I heard on this bill. It's simply not the facts of the bill.

Continue for a full draft of the bill and for commentary from Planned Parenthood.

Here's the latest version of the legislation.

HB 475

And here's a press release from Planned Parenthood that outlines some of the concerns.

HB457: DENIAL OF CARE BILL THREATENS TO RESTRICT ACCESS TO REPRODUCTIVE HEATLHCARE IN MISSOURI

Jefferson City, MO -- Today the Missouri House took up legislation (HB457) designed to protect and encourage those who refuse to provide critical reproductive health services to women in Missouri.

Missouri law already grants protections to individuals who refuse to provide access to safe and legal abortions. This bill unnecessarily expands the law to protect and encourage the denial of birth control including emergency contraception to rape survivors, sterilization, assisted reproduction and stem cell research. The bill also allows medical professionals and institutions to deny referrals for the necessary care if they refuse to provide it. Patients in need of care for a range of reasons could be discriminated against and left without care they need.

For example: • A rape victim could be denied information and access to emergency contraception, even when it is the hospital's policy to adhere to these standards of care outlined by the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other accrediting bodies. • A woman with an ectopic pregnancy that isn't considered life threatening yet could be denied care, including a referral as to where to receive care, until she comes back so sick that her life is in danger. • A woman experiencing a miscarriage could be denied care because her life is not considered to be at risk. This delay could cause the woman to have serious health issues or even die. • A patient at risk of contracting HIV could be refused information about and access to contraception. Similarly, allowing providers to deny contraceptive information and access could mean people with HIV may unknowingly infect others. • A married couple having trouble getting pregnant could be refused time sensitive information about assisted reproduction and lose their chance at having a child. • A woman with a condition that significantly increases her health risks during pregnancy, such as cancer, rheumatic fever, severe diabetes, phlebitis, sickle cell anemia and heart disease, could be denied information about how to prevent a pregnancy.

A woman should have accurate information about all of her options. Information should support a woman, help her make a decision for herself, and enable her to take care of her health and well-being. Information should not be provided with the intent of coercing, shaming or judging a woman.

Planned Parenthood works hard each and every day to provide essential -- often life-saving -- health care services. In fact, last year nearly 80,000 women, men and teens came to Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri for services such as cancer screenings, STD testing, comprehensive sex education, and birth control.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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