Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Massachusetts Court Rules Catholic Hospitals Can Refuse to Give Emergency Contraception to Rape Survivors

Rape survivors in Massachusetts be warned: Do not go to a Catholic hospital if you want emergency contraception. That state has exempted Catholic hospitals from having to comply with a new law that requires all hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape survivors.

The state Department of Public Health has determined that Catholic and other privately-run hospitals in Massachusetts can opt out of giving the morning-after pill to rape victims because of religious or moral objections, despite a new law that requires all hospitals who treat such victims to provide them with emergency contraception.

The decision, which is likely to result in a legal challenge, reignites an issue that has been fiercely debated on Beacon Hill: who should have access to emergency contraception and which hospitals, pharmacies, and medical centers should be required to provide it.

The ruling set off criticism from reproductive rights advocates and other backers of the new law, who believe rape victims should have wide access to what they say is a safe, effective means to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But it heartened conservatives and Catholic groups, who oppose the morning-after pill because they believe it amounts to abortion in some cases.

The ruling, which the department plans to outline to hospital CEOs in a letter this week, says the new law applies to all hospitals but does not nullify a statute passed years ago that says privately-run hospitals cannot be forced to provide abortions or contraception.

"We feel very clearly that the two laws don't cancel each other out and basically work in harmony with each other," Paul Cote Jr., commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said in an interview yesterday.

The two laws "work in harmony with each other," says the leading public health official, whose first name makes it clear that he will never be compelled to surrender his body for nine months to the growth and nourishment of a baby conceived in rape.

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