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CFFC in the News - 2003

spokesman-review

Catholic hospitals violate state law

3 January 2003

A pro-choice group says that six Washington state Catholic hospitals apparently are breaking state law by denying the "morning-after" pill to rape victims.

The group surveyed 597 Catholic hospital emergency rooms, including 18 in Washington state and five in Idaho. Sacred Heart Medical Center, named as among those hospitals violating the law by Catholics for a Free Choice, says that's not the hospital's official position

"Sacred Heart has a written policy on this issue which explicitly states that in cases of sexual assault, we provide emergency contraception after tests indicate the patient is not currently pregnant," said hospital spokeswoman Maureen Goins.

But the researchers say their study reflects the actual availability of emergency contraception, regardless of official policy.

Trained callers telephoned the hospitals during one weekend last August. While not actually claiming to have been raped, the callers also did not say they were part of a study. The callers asked triage nurses or others who answered the phone about emergency contraception.

The goal of the "mystery client" study was to approximate a real woman's experience, said Kate Miller of Ibis Reproductive Health, a nonprofit research group in Cambridge, Mass., which conducted the survey for Catholics for a Free Choice.

"I'm afraid that whomever our mystery client spoke with, they were misadvised," said Goins of Sacred Heart.

Other hospitals in the Providence Services Eastern Washington system gave callers differing information. Providence manages hospitals for the Sisters of Providence.

Holy Family Hospital, Deer Park Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla told the survey callers that emergency contraception would be provided only in rape cases in which the victim was not pregnant.

But Mount Carmel Hospital in Colville said the pill was available to rape victims with no restrictions. And St. Joseph's Hospital in Chewelah said it was available on request.

Washington is among three states with laws requiring that hospital emergency rooms provide rape victims with information about the so-called morning-after pills.

The other states are Illinois and California.

Washington requires hospitals to provide the pills to rape victims ``if not medically contraindicated'' -- and existing pregnancy is a contraindication according to the Web sites of two FDA-approved morning-after pills. The state also allows authorized pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without a doctor visit.

The pills contain hormones that reduce the risk of pregnancy. They are taken in two doses, 12 hours apart, within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.

New data show the pills may be effective within 120 hours after intercourse, said C.J.

Gribble, executive director of Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest. Gribble, a registered nurse who used to work at Sacred Heart, said she would be ``surprised and deeply disappointed'' if the hospital was forcing its belief system on rape victims. She said the pills don't interrupt an established pregnancy.

How the pills work remains unclear. The sticking point for some Catholics is whether the pills work by delaying ovulation, interfering with fertilization or preventing a fertilized egg from implanting.

Sacred Heart's official policy -- and the policies stated in the survey by Deer Park, Holy Family and St. Mary hospitals -- conform to health-care guidelines from the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Idaho Catholic hospitals gave the survey callers different answers.

Three hospitals -- Nampa's Mercy Medical Center, Boise's St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and Lewiston's St. Joseph Regional Medical Center -- said the pills were provided only in cases of rape and no pregnancy.

St. Benedict's Family Medical Center in Jerome said it never provides emergency contraception. St. Mary's Hospital in Cottonwood said it provides the pills on request.

The Catholics for a Free Choice survey found that 28 percent of Catholic hospitals nationally said they would provide emergency contraception to rape victims.

Fifty-five percent said they would not provide it under any circumstances. Eleven percent were unsure or unresponsive.

Catholic hospitals handled 15 percent of emergency room visits in the year 2000, according to the study.

This article courtesy of the Spokesman-Review.