Monday, June 05, 2006

Emergency Contraception and Rape

I was alerted (granted, some time ago) to an ACLU press release about emergency contraception (EC) [un]availability for military women:

WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union today decried Congress's failure to support legislation that would have made emergency contraception available at all military health care facilities. In 2002, the Department of Defense removed the safe and effective contraceptive from its Basic Core Formulary, making it much less likely that the drug will be stocked on military bases.


Yesterday, the ACLU, joined a broad coalition of women in the military, medical professionals, and advocates for women's health and rights, and sent a joint letter urging members of Congress to support an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2007 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5122) sponsored by Representatives Michael Michaud (D-ME) and Tim Ryan (D-OH). The Michaud-Ryan Amendment would have ensured that emergency contraception was again available by prescription at all military health facilities. Yesterday, the amendment was blocked in a House committee.

Although involving politicians in medical care is not my cup of tea, it goes without saying that emergency contraception (EC) should be freely available to military personnel. That's not the issue. This is (and in all fairness, I'm only using this press release as an example; this is not the first time I encounter this problem):

The letter pointed out that "increased access to emergency contraception will help meet the needs of those military women who are victims of sexual assault. A 2003 study found that 30 percent of female U.S. military veterans report having been raped or suffered a rape attempt during their military service, and military officials report that there were 2,374 reported cases of sexual assault among service members reported to military criminal investigators last year --– a 40 percent increase from 2004."


"A military woman facing the tragedy of a sexual assault must not be twice victimized," Fredrickson [Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office] said. "Ensuring that she can get emergency contraception will enable her to prevent a pregnancy that could result form an assault; this is the least we can do."

[I]ncreased access to emergency contraception will help meet the needs of those military women who are victims of sexual assault. What about the needs of those military women who aren't victims of sexual assault?

In case we have all forgotten, the indication for EC--a birth control method--is pregnancy prevention, period!

There's absolutely no requirement for a patient to be brutalized in order for her to receive EC. Just like there's no anal rape requirement for a male soldier before he should receive antibiotics for STI prophylaxis.

How about increased access to emergency contraception will help meet the needs of those military women who are at risk of an unintended pregnancy? Or how about [a] military woman facing an unintended pregnancy must not be victimized by receiving substandard medical care?

It's not that sexual assault isn't traumatic, and/or a very serious matter. It is. But the indication for EC applies equally to a rape victim, to a patient who's experienced contraceptive failure, or to a patient who simply forgot to use birth control. Why, when it comes to female patients, must rape be brought up almost every time the issue of EC availability is discussed?

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