Friday, November 2, 2007

Compassion, but only sometimes

I'm very pleased to see that the Assembly moved two bills forward recently, both dealing with care for victims of sexual assault. The first bill apparently enjoys broad bipartisan support and will likely pass without much issue. That one deals with the forensic exams administered after an assault to collect DNA and other evidence against the assailant. It would take the burden of paying for them off of the victims and provide full state funding. I'm not sure how it was that we went so long without realizing that forcing the victim to pay for this essential service was a bad idea, but I'm extremely relieved to see it being rectified now, and with great support.

The second, more uncertain bill would "mandate that rape victims receive information about emergency contraception in all Wisconsin emergency rooms and have access to EC upon request."

Right on cue, however, social conservatives have their panties in a twist over that one, claiming that the bill would trample the rights of religious institutions (think St. Mary's).

AB 377 was referred to the Assembly Judiciary and Ethics Committee after the Senate vote, where an amendment was added in Sept. that would allow hospitals to refuse to comply with the law if it violated their religious or moral beliefs.

Pocan said in a statement that the amendment “nullifies” the bill, though amendment supporters have stated that it protects hospitals’ religious freedoms. State Rep. Frederick Kessler, D-Milwaukee, who co-sponsored AB377, said he was still hopeful the bill would pass the Assembly.

Ultimately, if any amendment were going to be added to this bill, I would suggest something a little less broad, but also something that allows places that oppose the use of contraception (like St. Mary's) a way out. For example, word it like this: "Any health care institution with religious or moral objections to the use of emergency contraceptives shall be required to provide information to victims of sexual assault about alternative places where EC can be procured, and provide transportation to said alternative at the patient's request."

Ultimately, I wish everyone would just get over themselves about the contraception issue. It's not abortion. There is no new life involved. Contraception and things like Plan B stop conception before it ever happens. No harm, no foul.

But I also realize that this issue won't resolve itself like that for a long while yet. While that frustrates me and many other pro-choice advocates to no end, we also need to be willing to make strong compromises along the way. The bill is a good one, and if we need to add an amendment that gets religious hospitals off the hook to get it passed, then so be it. The wording, however, needs to be precise and clear in that the option for EC must still be available to those in need and that your responsibility as a health care provider is to make sure they have easy access, even if that means driving them to the next hospital down the road (say, Meriter).

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