ACLU and Broad Coalition Probe Government on Removal of Information on Pregnancy Prevention in National Protocol for Treating Rape Survivors

August 30, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – On behalf of a coalition of sexual assault groups, religious leaders, and women’s health advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union today sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of Justice asking it to release records pertaining to the removal of any references to emergency contraception or pregnancy prevention in the first-ever national protocol for treating sexual assault survivors.

Rape Survivor Treatment Lacks Pregnancy Prevention (1/6/05)

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Read the ACLU’s request to the Justice Department

Preventing Pregnancy After Rape: Emergency Care Facilities Put Women at Risk

“”It is time for the Department of Justice to be accountable for refusing to do everything it can to protect sexual assault survivors from unintended pregnancy,”” said Louise Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “”The federal government’s failure to act in the best interests of women who have been sexually assaulted appears motivated by politics rather than compassion.””

The Department of Justice released the first-ever national protocol for treating sexual assault patients at the end of last year. While recognizing that pregnancy is “”often an overwhelming and genuine fear”” of sexual assault victims, the protocol included only a single, vague sentence on pregnancy prevention and failed to mention emergency contraception or recommend that it be offered to sexual assault victims.

In January of this year, more than 270 national, state, and local organizations, as well as individuals sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging it to amend the 130-page protocol to include information about emergency contraception and pregnancy prevention. The Department has yet to take any action.

If emergency care facilities routinely provided emergency contraception, up to 22,000 pregnancies that result from rape each year could be prevented, according to researchers at Princeton University and University of California.

According to today’s request, “”news reports make clear that information about emergency contraception was included in earlier versions of the protocol and was subsequently eliminated.”” In addition, a prior version of the protocol “”included the recommendation that treatment providers ‘discuss treatment options with patients and provide them with immediate access to a full range of reproductive healthcare services.'””

In addition to the ACLU, groups joining today’s request include Christians for Justice Action, Family Planning Advocates of New York State, MergerWatch, Montana Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Council of Jewish Women, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, among others.

The groups are requesting information about the existing protocol to assist in efforts to “”have a meaningful impact on the Department’s decisions regarding the inclusion of emergency contraception in subsequent editions of the Protocol and in the implementation trainings that are currently being scheduled,”” today’s letter states.

Today’s request comes on the heels of Friday’s announcement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to once again delay a decision that would allow pharmacies to sell the emergency contraceptive, Plan B, without a prescription to women aged 16 and over. In most states, the FDA’s refusal to make this safe and effective means of pregnancy prevention available over the counter forces women to first obtain a prescription, delaying access and potentially undermining the effectiveness of this important contraceptive method, the ACLU noted.

“”The FDA’s failure to ensure over-the-counter access to emergency contraception makes it that much more crucial that the Department of Justice stress the importance of providing emergency contraception to rape survivors at the time they are treated for the assault,”” Melling added.

Emergency contraception, often referred to as “”the morning-after pill,”” reduces the risk of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent if the first dose is taken within days of unprotected intercourse, but it is more effective the sooner it is taken.

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