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Rep. Thompson Bills Deal With Emergency Contraception

By Jennifer Bendery,

Austin, TX –

Concerned that there is no legislation in place detailing how sexual assault survivors should be treated in Texas hospital emergency rooms, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) today held a press conference to announce two new bills to create a standard of care for rape victims and to ensure access to emergency contraception.

"Sexual assault is a violent crime," said Thompson. "I'm trying to give those persons who are victims of rape an opportunity to be treated, counseled and have a chance to prevent pregnancy by taking emergency contraception." She emphasized that, unlike the controversial RU486 pill, emergency contraception does not cause an abortion but prevents a pregnancy from taking place. "It slows down the process of the sperm being able to penetrate the egg," said Thompson. "It reduces the speed from 55 miles per hour to maybe 20."

Thompson's bills include HB 677, which is designed to give rape victims the opportunity to be treated in a private room once administered to a hospital. "Rape is a very traumatic experience," she said, noting that a private room would allow the person to have forensic work done, talk with counselors and be visited by the same nurse. HB 676 allows a rape victim to obtain a prescription for emergency contraception. Emergency contraception does not eliminate a pregnancy, should a rape victim get pregnant, Thompson emphasized. "If you're pregnant, you're going to stay pregnant."

Mary Levy, a Travis County nurse specializing in treatment of sexual assault survivors, said she administers 30 to 35 sexual assault exams each month. The women and men who come in "are very, very traumatized," she said. Rape victims should be able "at the very least, as a minimum standard of care, to get emergency contraception. There is no reason to re-traumatize these women with a fear of pregnancy after sexual assault."

Dr. Diana Wise, who has been an OB/GYN doctor in Austin for 19 years, outlined the three preventive aspects of emergency contraception: it prevents ovulation, slows tubal motility and prevents implantation of the egg in the uterus. The safety of such medicine has "been well-documented," said Wise, noting that it is supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She added that emergency contraception prevents abortions.

Under Thompson's bills, hospitals would be required to provide emergency contraception upon request. "They don't all do that now," she said, noting that some Catholic hospitals are reluctant to provide emergency contraception because they believe conception may have taken place. "We don't believe it does," said Thompson. "When the pill is taken, it just stops the egg in the name of sexual assault. 'Don't move.'"

Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) said the Catholic Hospital system says in its mission statement that it does not provide any contraception because it is in conflict with their religious beliefs. Thompson's legislation would apply to them, she said. "A narrow, religious definition has overtaken science and medicine where women's health care is concerned," she said. "That is the reality of the health care climate we're in today."

"Can you imagine someone being raped and asking for help, getting a forensic exam and the nurse saying, 'Sorry, we can't give you a prescription because if you're pregnant, we don't want you to have the opportunity to avoid this?'" asked Thompson. When asked if she thought the emergency contraception bill might be stalled by staunch pro-life colleagues in the House, Thompson replied, "I'm hoping we will be able to educate them better this session" on the differences between abortion-inducing medications and emergency contraception.

When asked how a bill filed by Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio) enabling pharmacists to deny patients prescriptions they are morally opposed to relates to Thompson's legislation, Thompson said Corte's bill would deny a potential rape victim the right to have a prescription filled for emergency contraception. "I can't see consciously how a person would avoid helping a women traumatized by rape and not allow her to do something to protect herself and her health," she said.