(1st Add: Includes background on the Catholic Health Association which represents the Catholic health ministry.)
Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Members of the Congressional "Pro-Choice" Caucus have introduced a bill that would force hospitals to provide "emergency contraception" to sexual assault victims, even if the hospital is a private, religious facility opposed to contraception or abortion.
The "Compassionate Care for Female Sexual Assault Survivors Act" would require that hospital emergency rooms make "emergency contraceptives" available to rape and incest victims seeking treatment after an assault, and that the hospitals proactively inform women about the availability of the drugs.
"It would provide a safe and effective way of preventing unwanted pregnancies in situations of sexual assault, and it would ultimately minimize the number of abortions," said Rep. Constance Morella (R-Md.) lead co-sponsor of the bill.
According to information provided by Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), 300,000 women are sexually assaulted each year in the United States, and approximately 25,000 of them will become pregnant as a result.
The group, which is also the nation's largest abortion provider through its Planned Parenthood clinics, says as many as 22,000 of those pregnancies could be "prevented if all rape survivors used emergency contraception."
"Emergency contraception in the Emergency Room is compassionate common sense," said PPFA's president, Gloria Feldt.
"Emergency contraception," also known as the morning-after pill, is actually a high dosage of birth control pills.
Opponents of the drug's use claim it causes side effects including nausea, vomiting, infertility, breast tenderness, ectopic pregnancy, which can be life threatening, and blood clot formation.
The drugs work in one of three ways:
- Ovulation is inhibited, meaning the egg will not be released;
- The normal menstrual cycle is altered, delaying ovulation; or
- It can irritate the lining of the uterus so that if the first and second actions fail, and the woman does become pregnant, the human embryo is prevented from attaching to the lining of the uterus.
It is this third possibility that causes problems for many Catholic and other religious hospitals, according to Patrick Delaney, assistant director of public policy for Stop Planned Parenthood (STOPP).
"It's this third way that causes a danger to a newly conceived life," Delaney said.
He noted the irony of supporters of the bill calling themselves "pro-choice" when they want to deny hospitals with a religious affiliation the choice to act in accordance with the beliefs of their faith.
"The problem is that - while insisting upon tolerance for their deviant view regarding the 'right' to kill a pre-born child - they will not provide the same freedom of conscience to Catholic hospitals that choose not to participate in early abortions," he said.
The Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) represents the Catholic health ministry.
The organization's "Ethical and Religious Directives" states that "compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is a victim of sexual assault [and that] a female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from a sexual assault."
A statement issued by Rev. Michael D. Place STD, president and chief executive officer of CHA says that can be done, under certain circumstances, without ending the life of a newly conceived child.
"If, after appropriate testing, it is considered medically appropriate, approved FDA drugs can be administered in a Catholic hospital for contraceptive purposes for the prevention of fertilization," Place said.
"In a narrow set of circumstances, a Catholic hospital cannot provide these drugs if their effect would be abortifacient: that is, the fertilized ovum would be destroyed," he continued.
"While some would assert that the fertilized ovum prior to implantation is not human life, the Catholic tradition does consider the fertilized ovum to be human life and deserving of the respect and protection due any human being," Place said.
CHA's more than 2,000 members form the nation's largest group of not-for-profit health care sponsors, systems, facilities, health plans, and related organizations in the U.S. While Place says CHA is "eager to work with Congress" it does not appear that some in Congress are eager to work with the association.
Another of the bill's co-sponsors, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) says religious hospitals are trying to force beliefs on patients that are out of the American mainstream. She believes the United States is a "pro-choice nation."
"We're gonna put the 'anti-choice' forces in this country on the run. I think they're already beginning to retreat, because we're not voting on all these crazy bills all the time in Congress," DeGette said.
"This bill today that we're introducing is the first step towards a proactive, pro-choice, pro-contraception agenda," she acknowledged.
Delaney disagrees with DeGette's characterization.
"America is not, and never has been, a pro-abortion nation," he argued. "Just about every individual understands that the direct killing of a pre-born human being is wrong."
Delaney says DeGette's "first step" comment should serve as an alarm to the pro-life community to take action now.
"Every human being has a right to life from the moment of fertilization," he concluded. "The United States Congress has no right to compromise this inherent right to life given by God."
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