Whatever You Do, Don't Get Raped Near a Catholic Hospital
...Get Raped Near a Real One

Mass. To Exempt Some from Contraception law

from The Associated Press

BOSTON - The state's health commissioner plans to allow Roman Catholic and other private hospitals to be exempt from a new law making the "morning-after" pill available to rape victims, a decision likely to trigger a legal challenge.

Public Health Commissioner Paul Cote Jr. said Tuesday the law doesn't supersede a previous one declaring private hospitals can't 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," Cote said.

Cote said new regulations, expected to be issued by next week, will allow private hospitals to opt out of the program on religious or moral grounds.

Abortion rights groups and other advocates criticized the decision.

"Rape victims shouldn't have to worry about the affiliation of a hospital when they go to an emergency room or are brought there by an ambulance to receive necessary care," said Angus McQuilken, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

The new rules also drew criticism from Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, a Democratic candidate for governor whose office might have to defend them against a legal challenge.

"We believe the law is clear and that it applies to all hospitals," Reilly said in a statement. "We expect all hospitals to follow the law."

Reilly's aides would not elaborate on whether the attorney general would defend the ruling if it is challenged.

The emergency contraception pill is a high dose of hormones that women can take up to five days after sex to prevent pregnancy. Opponents who believe life begins at conception contend the pill is little different from an abortion because it blocks the fertilized egg from being implanted on the uterine wall.

The new law was passed overwhelmingly in July by the Legislature, which then overrode a veto by Gov. Mitt Romney.

Supporters said the Republican governor was attempting to appeal to conservative voters outside Massachusetts ahead of a possible 2008 presidential run.

"Our intent now and when we passed it, is that it applies to all hospitals," said State Sen. Pamela Resor, D-Acton, a lead sponsor of the new law. "We are hopeful that they will rethink this."

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said the governor supports exempting church-run hospitals and other institutions because it "respects the views of health care facilities that are guided by moral principles on this issue."

Caritas Christi Health Care issued a statement saying its policy mirrors the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on care for victims of sexual assault, which includes providing emergency contraception to female patients who are not already pregnant.

"The guidelines affirm that a female sexual assault victim should be able to protect herself against a potential conception as a result of an assault, if after appropriate testing, there is no evidence conception has already occurred," the statement said.

Seven other states with emergency contraception laws require all hospitals to provide it to rape victims, and none of them exempt hospitals opposed to providing contraception or abortions.


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