"The protocol of six Catholic hospitals run by Centura calls for rape victims to undergo an ovulation test.
If they have not ovulated, said Centura corporate spokeswoman Dana Berry, doctors tell the victims about emergency contraception and write prescriptions for it if the patient asks.
If, however, the urine test suggests that a rape victim has ovulated, Berry continued, doctors at Centura's Catholic hospitals are not to mention emergency contraception. That means the victim can end up pregnant by her rapist."
Or, in short: if a rape victim doesn't need emergency contraception, the hospitals' doctors will tell her about it; but if there's a significant chance that she might actually get pregnant as a result of her rape, and therefore does need it, they won't say a word.
I'm trying to figure out the thinking behind this. I realize that Catholics are opposed to contraception. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they must be opposed to mentioning contraception to a woman who might want it, especially when that woman has just been raped, and may not herself be Catholic. Apparently the people who write policy for these hospitals are not opposed to mentioning emergency contraception in general -- remember, it's part of the protocol to mention it to women who have not ovulated, and even to prescribe it if asked. It's only when the woman stands a significant chance of getting pregnant as a result of rape that their "consciences" kick in.
Moreover, quick access to emergency contraception can make the difference between using Plan B, which prevents conception, and either using RU486, which produces an abortion, or getting a surgical abortion. Plan B is most effective if taken within 72 hours of intercourse. If a rape victim is told about Plan B when she's being treated, then even if the hospital won't prescribe it, she stands some chance of being able to find a doctor who will before that window slams shut. If she is not told, however, she may not learn that it's possible to prevent conception until it's too late to do anything besides have the child or abort it. This is a choice that no woman should be forced to make when there is an alternative; and anyone who wants to minimize the number of abortions should think that enabling women to prevent conception after rape, rather than having to choose between abortion and carrying the child to term, is a very good idea.
The governor of Colorado has recently vetoed a bill that would have required all hospitals to inform rape victims about emergency contraception. The law would have provided a 'conscience clause' for doctors, but not for hospitals. According to Gov. Owens, that's wrong:
"It is one of the central tenets of a free society that individuals and institutions should not be coerced by government to engage in activities that violate their moral or religious beliefs," Owens wrote in his veto message. It is only his second veto of the year.
"While this bill did offer health-care professionals the right to decline to offer emergency contraception due to religious or moral beliefs, it did not offer those same protections to health-care institutions. This is wrong. And it is unconstitutional."
Wrong, Governor. To paraphrase the NRA, hospitals do not have beliefs; people do. If you protect the religious convictions of each and every person in a hospital, you have protected all the religious beliefs in that hospital, since the hospital itself does not have any religious beliefs. I am not a lawyer, but I would have thought that the reason that, say, a private religious club cannot be forced to do things that violate its members' religious beliefs, absent some compelling state interest, is not that it -- the organization -- has a first amendment right to the free exercise of religion, but rather that its members do, and that if it is a purely private organization, it is not subject to many of the laws that might otherwise constrain it (e.g., anti-discrimination statutes.)
In this case, however, both of those arguments fail. On the one hand, the consciences of individual medical professionals are protected under the statute in question. On the other, hospitals are not purely private organizations. They accept federal and state funds. They provide a public service, and do so under a variety of regulations and licensing requirements. I do not think it is too much to ask that they inform their patients, who may or may not be Catholic, about health care options those patients might want to pursue, especially in a case like this, where that option does not concern something frivolous, like removing some stray unwanted hair or mole, but whether or not to bear a child conceived in rape. Respecting individuals' religious beliefs and consciences requires giving them the information they need to make an informed decision about what to do with their bodies and their lives. In the case of women who oppose abortion, not providing this information could mean depriving her of the only way in which she could avoid bearing a child conceived in rape without violating her own moral or religious beliefs. To deprive her of this option because of the supposed need to respect the nonexistent religious beliefs of institutions is no part of any morality I recognize.