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Will EC get the OK?

Gov. Owens still silent on emergency contraception bill

By Leigh E. Rich

A majority can make all the difference.

This rings all too true for Democratic Rep. Betty Boyd of Lakewood, whose House Bill 1042 that would require Colorado hospitals to provide information about emergency contraception to rape survivors has, after three years, landed squarely on Gov. Bill Owens’ desk.

Similar bills introduced by Boyd in 2003 and in 2004 passed in the House but died in the Senate’s State Affairs Committee.

Whether the Republican governor will sign this session’s bill is a different story.

Owens, who’s recently been quick to make his opinion known on other headline-making issues such as the scandals at the University of Colorado, has kept quiet this week—even after members of the Colorado Republican Majority for Choice (CRMC) and the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA) delivered more than 5,000 signed letters Tuesday petitioning the governor for his signature. The CRMC also encouraged Republicans to express support for the bill via automated phone calls that, with the touch of a button, would connect them to Gov. Owens’ office.

Owens has 10 days after receiving the bill to decide what to do. He can sign the bill into law, he can veto it or he can refrain from taking any action and let it become law without his approval.

Supporters of the bill, which was re-passed in the House with Senate amendments Tuesday morning, didn’t hesitate to plead with Owens to sign what they deem to be an important, compassionate and commonsense initiative that will help put some control back into the hands of rape victims.

Mimi Schaefer, a rape survivor who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference, hopes her entreaty won’t fall on deaf ears.

“I felt doubly victimized,” she said of being raped at the age of 15 and then living in silent fear that, were anyone to find out, she would be judged and held to blame. For some time, she also feared she would become pregnant.

Nearly three decades later, her voice still falters when speaking of the crime perpetrated against her.

She spoke out Tuesday to “give voice to past and future rape victims,” she said, adding solemnly, “because there will be future victims.”

According to CCASA’s Cynthia Stone, more than 1,600 rapes were reported in Colorado in 2003. But since about 84 percent of rapes go unreported, the actual number “could be as many as 10,000 a year.”

Nationally, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey, one in six women and one in 33 men have experienced or will experience an attempted or completed rape at some point in their lives.

Between 25,000 and 32,000 American women become pregnant as a result of rape, CCASA reports, half of which end in abortion. Emergency contraceptive (EC) medication, if given within the first 72 to 120 hours, can prevent pregnancy from occurring.

But “nearly one-third of Colorado hospitals either don’t give victims this important information or don’t have standard policies about it,” Stone said.

And “only 11 percent of women know of the availability” of EC.

Boyd’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, would require Colorado hospitals to inform rape survivors that EC medication is available and, if the survivor so chooses, provide such care or refer her to another facility.

The bill exempts health care professionals who object on religious or moral grounds.

Boyd emphasized Tuesday that EC “is exactly what it says. It’s contraception. … It is indeed birth control.”

Opponents such as the Colorado Catholic Conference, however, argue that HB 1042 infringes on the religious beliefs of Catholic hospitals and providers. The Catholic Church, which doesn’t believe in the use of artificial contraception or abortion, has expressed fears that contraceptives can act as abortifacients.

EC, similar to birth control pills, tricks the body into thinking it’s pregnant, thus preventing ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary) from occurring. It also can prevent a fertilized egg, if ovulation has already occurred, from implanting in the uterine wall. Catholic doctrine, as explained by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in a Denver Post editorial in February, considers pregnancy and life to begin at the moment of fertilization.

Boyd reassured Coloradans at Tuesday’s press conference that the definition of what can be considered emergency contraceptive medication was debated and amended as the bill proceeded through the legislative process. “RU486 and other abortifacients are not included,” she said.

What’s more, supporters like CRMC’s Amanda Mountjoy say, “this bill will ultimately reduce the number of (rape-related) abortions.”

According to Boyd, who cited a poll conducted last fall, 75 percent of Coloradans support this type of legislation.

“It seems to me a wise move for the state to follow through,” she added.

Seven states currently have similar legislation, including California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, New Mexico and Washington.

“We expect (Gov. Owens’) support of this bill,” Mountjoy said.

Schaefer, who was raised in a “strong Catholic family,” agrees.

“Health care professionals should be just that—professionals who care,” she said. “You need to respect the patient and their background and give value to diversity.”

“We believe that it is an unconscionable position” to place religious beliefs on a rape survivor who’s vulnerable, Stone added, stating that it is the women herself who is “the best judge” of what will help her in the healing process.

“We must support them in whatever decisions they make.” 

Rich, L. E. (2005, April 1). Will EC get the OK? Gov. Bill Owens still silent on emergency contraception bill. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1–2.

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