Federal Rape Response Protocol Ignores Emergency Contraception
Jessica Azulay of the News Standard reported that a coalition of women’s rights groups and advocates petitioned the Justice Department last week, demanding it amend recently released guidelines on the treatment of sexual assault survivors. The 130-page National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations is meant as a suggestive guide for medical professionals and law enforcement as they conduct examinations and care for survivors of rape. Yet, as women’s rights activists point out, the document does not provide information about emergency contraception for women who want to prevent pregnancy resulting from rape.
In a letter sent last week to the Justice Department, 206 national, state and local organizations along with 71 individuals -- many who work with sexualized violence survivors as counselors or health care providers -- asked that the Protocol be amended to include a thorough discussion of options for and counseling about pregnancy prevention.
In the brief section entitled "Pregnancy Risk Evaluation and Care," the protocol instructs care providers to discuss the probability of pregnancy with female patients, conduct a pregnancy test with the patient’s consent and discuss treatment options. Though the document advises that assault survivors’ "often overwhelming and genuine fear" of pregnancy "should be taken seriously," the protocol merely suggests that care providers "discuss treatment options with patients, including reproductive health services."
Late last month, Gail Burns-Smith, former director of the Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services and one of numerous experts who the Justice Department consulted during the Protocol’s development, told Knight Ridder news service that a discussion of emergency contraception did appear in earlier drafts. She said she did not know who, if anyone, opposed it.
At least some of the groups that are petitioning the Justice Department believe that the omission was politically motivated.
Gloria Feldt is the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nation's largest voluntary reproductive health organization, which operates nearly 850 health centers nationwide, providing reproductive health care and sexuality education to women and men. "It is outrageous that the ‘comprehensive’ protocols do not mention emergency contraception," she said in a press statement. "This is a blatant example of politics taking precedence over the emotional and physical health needs of women."Meanwhile, some socially conservative groups are content to leave the wording of the Protocol as is. "I think it's very smart not to put that in the guidelines," Dr. George Isajiw, the anti-abortion group, Physicians for Life, told Knight Ridder. Isajiw said that he believes emergency contraception is "a dangerous drug that’s not doing any good" and that it can cause an abortion. "As a moral principle, a woman has the right to defend herself against an aggressor. But she doesn't have the right to kill the baby."