Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ohio's Hospitals Failing Rape Victims

NARAL Ohio wrote me an email today (yeah, me personally, because I'm special) announcing something that damn well ought to be a no-brainer - that actually ought to already exist:
On Wednesday, State Representative Dan Stewart will formally introduce a bill that would ensure that sexual assault victims have access to emergency contraception and preventative treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STI) in Ohio emergency rooms. This bill (Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies) is critical for the treatment of sexual assault survivors in our state.
(No link on this, since it's not yet up on NARAL's state-by-state legislation tracker.)
And you'd think that such legislation wouldn't be necessary in the first place because the number of hospitals denying comprehensive care should approach zero, right? Wrong. Oh, so wrong.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio's survey of hospital emergency rooms last year showed that 17% of hospitals who participated in the survey do not guarantee access to emergency contraception (also known as the “morning-after” pill) to all sexual assault victims.
That's one in six hospitals refusing to provide legal care that meets the basic standards of modern medicine. Though NARAL doesn't specify, the odds are great that they're virtually all Catholic institutions. But by golly, if I were raped, the first thing out of my mouth wouldn't be "Please take me to a non-Catholic hospital." A victim of assault should be given everything she needs, not forced to advocate for herself while she's profoundly traumatized.

Yesterday I just read the full text of Humanae Vitae, the 1968 Papal Encyclical that reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's intransigent rejection of abortion and contraception. I came away from it impressed with the otherworldly idealism of it. I still disagree as deeply as ever with its conclusions, but I do appreciate its warnings against using other humans as a mere means to an end.

And yet, nowhere does Humanae Vitae address the problem of rape and violence and coercion. If the Catholic hierarchy** wants to maintain that sexuality can only be expressed in marriage, in acts that do not run contrary to "nature" (and boy, is that a spongy category), then how does it account for acts of sexual violence? Why should contraception be anathema after an act that violates the spirit of Humanae Vitae on so many levels - the lack of meaningful consent, the clear use of one person as a mere means, the violation of the Church's notion of the natural?

And why - even according to Catholic theology - should a victim of violence be denied emergency contraception? Remember, we're talking about blocking conception, not performing an abortion. This is, in fact, the chance to prevent an abortion, considering that most rape victims will not carry a resulting pregnancy to term.

Yes, I know that Catholicism maintains that fetal life is innocent life, and that the fetus did not choose to be conceived through an act of violence. But nowhere does Humanae Vitae assert this point. Instead, it grounds opposition to "artificial" birth control in the sanctity of married sexuality as always simultaneously serving two ends, unity of the couple and the propagation of humanity. I'm no expert in theology, nor was I raised Catholic. I'm sure other Catholic teachings do address the Church's reasons for opposing EC even in cases of rape. I'm also aware that EC wasn't on the religious/political agenda in 1968 when Humanae Vitae was issued, although doctors were certainly aware of it.

But if the primary Catholic position statement on "life" doesn't provide a rationale for denying EC to rape victims, I see no reason why secular authorities can't impose their own requirements. I do know that the Church affirms the dignity of every human being, and if it takes government intervention to extend that to rape victims, so be it.

** I'm fully aware that most American Catholics will disagree with the Church on this, so I'm taking care to refer to the hierarchy and to official doctrine insofar as I understand it.

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