States Waver over Emergency Contraception

Social conservatives win a victory in Connecticut when lawmakers decide not to vote on a bill that would require hospitals to give rape victims emergency contraception, or Plan B. Similar bills are pending in seven other states, as are bills to restrict access to Plan B.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Social conservatives won a victory in Connecticut this week against the emergency contraceptive Plan B. Lawmakers decided not to vote on a bill that would've required hospitals to give rape victims access to the drug. Similar bills are pending in seven other states and they too are likely to get drawn into the politics of abortion. NPR's Libby Lewis looks at what happened to Connecticut's Plan B Bill.

LIBBY LEWIS reporting:

Deb Heinrich is a scientist, microbiology and molecular genetics. She's also a freshman Democrat in Connecticut's House of Representatives. She just won an award for her work on women's issues. When rape crisis advocates came to lawmakers and asked for laws to insure rape victims can get emergency contraception at hospitals, Deb Heinrich agreed. As it is, some hospitals give it, some don't.

Heinrich knows Plan B emergency contraception usually works by preventing ovulation or fertilization. She also knows many Catholics in this heavily Catholic state believe that emergency contraception can cause an early abortion. That's if it acts by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. Heinrich doesn't agree with that definition of abortion, even so…

Ms. DEB HEINRICH (Scientist, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics): I definitely am given pause because I understand the importance of both sides of this argument. I understand the importance of a strong belief system, and I respect that very much.

LEWIS: But she backed the bill to require hospitals to require hospitals to offer rape victims emergency contraception, including the state's four Catholic hospitals. Their policy is to test rape victims to see if they might be near ovulation at the time of the rape. If so, the hospitals won't provide emergency contraception, but they will tell the victim where to get it. The public hearing for the bill went on for four hours.

Unidentified Female#1: The next speaker is L.S. followed by Bill O'Brien.

LEWIS: L.S. is a young woman from Milford who'd been raped. She's 29 and she came to speak for the bill. Later, she spoke to NPR. She said she was driving home near New Haven on a fall night two years ago. A gang of young thugs with guns forced her into her car trunk and drove her to the woods. They raped her. They beat her head with a rock, and they tried to strangle her. Then they left her for dead.

Ms. L.S.: I pull myself up and I pretend that I was dead. And I heard two cars drove away, so I pull myself up. And I started walking towards the streetlight.

LEWIS: She made it to a house. An old man there called 911 for her. At the hospital, a nurse told the young woman she might become pregnant, and offered her emergency contraception. She took it. She told the lawmakers how grateful she was to have gotten it. Then she stayed to listen as a number of Catholic parishioners came up to testify against the bill. They were earnest and respectful. They spoke about religious freedom and about abortion.

Mary Pollock(ph) of St. Joseph's Church was one.

Ms. MARY POLLOCK (St. Joseph's Church): I'm just an ordinary citizen and I'm a Catholic. I'm a practicing Catholic. Speaking just for that, as a Catholic person, when I go to a Catholic High School, I want to know that they're practicing my Catholic values.

LEWIS: Mary Pollock said she felt for the young woman behind her who'd been raped. Then she began talking about abortion. Others talked about how life begins at conception. It dawned on the young woman as she listened to Mary Pollock and the others, they were saying if she'd had gotten pregnant from the rape, she should've had the baby.

Ms. L.S.: I certainly, you know, imagine myself and it, oh my goodness, what they are saying. And I started thinking, like, when I was raped, that my rapists' semen, my, got into my body and, you know, I wanted to ask those people, so you are telling me that there's semen got into my body, that means I have their life inside me? It was really disgusting. And in, I was, I was offended, actually.

LEWIS: Barry Feldman, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of Hartford and the Catholic Hospitals negotiated the bill for the Catholics. He said this is difficult territory.

Mr. BARRY FELDMAN (Spokesman, Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford): Our hearts go out to her, and we would hope that she and others would understand that the Catholic hospitals' right to exercise its religion as it believes is appropriate, is just as important a right as any individual right might be.

LEWIS: In the end, that argument won out. The leaders and opponents of the bill ran out the clock, so the bill died without a vote. Libby Lewis, NPR News.

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