TRENTON – Senators Shirley K. Turner and Joseph F. Vitale welcomed today’s final legislative approval of their bill to require hospitals to inform sexual assault victims about emergency contraceptives and provide them upon request.
“All women have the fundamental right to choose when and how they would like to become a mother,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “Victims of sexual assault shouldn’t have this choice taken away from them by the heinous acts of a criminal. We can help the healing process begin by giving them the option to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and let them feel empowered again.”
Under bill S-1668 emergency departments and general hospitals would be required to give female sexual assault victims a pregnancy test. If the test indicates that no pregnancy has already occurred, the facility would be required to provide the victim with information on emergency contraception and inform her of the option of being provided that emergency contraception. Upon her request, the facility would then have to provide the contraceptive.
Senator Vitale stressed that emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after pill” is not the same as RU-486, which causes an abortion to take place. Emergency contraception must be taken within 120 hours after unprotected sex, and inhibits pregnancy from occurring, although it does not affect or harm an already-established pregnancy. The Senator argued that the distinction between the two treatments is important in striking a compromise between pro-life and pro-choice advocates on the appropriateness of emergency contraception.
“Whatever your moral or ethical beliefs regarding abortion, the ‘morning after’ pill is not the same thing,” said Senator Vitale. “It is simply a high dose of the same type of birth control that women take on a regular basis to avoid unplanned pregnancy. In situations of sexual assault, ethics and morality dictate that we must give the victim the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to avoid becoming pregnant by using the medications that are available to them.”
The bill also provides that written information be developed by the commissioner in collaboration with the Director of the Division on Women, the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault and a sexual assault Nurse examiner program would explain the nature of the emergency contraception, the effectiveness of emergency contraception in preventing pregnancy, where emergency contraception can be obtained, and treatment options. The information would be distributed to all hospital emergency rooms and ambulatory care facilities in quantities sufficient to comply with the purposes of this act.
“The key to this bill is that we are educating victims of sexual assault about the options available to them. By providing information, they will be able to make well-informed decisions and take control of what’s happening to their bodies. This can be the first in many steps toward recovering from such a despicable act,” said Senator Turner.
In addition, the bill provides that all covered health care facilities would have to develop written policies and procedures to ensure that all personnel who provide care or information to sexual assault victims are trained to provide medically and factually accurate and objective information about emergency contraception to a sexual assault victim and provide that information to a sexual assault victim. The Department of Health and Senior Services would also be required to investigate complaints of noncompliance with this act. The Commission of Health and Senior Services would be empowered to assess penalties against facilities shown to have a pattern of noncompliance.
Senator Vitale noted that the bill has garnered the support of the New Jersey Catholic Conference and Catholic Health Care of New Jersey, as well as Planned Parenthood and the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“The broad support this bill has shows this issue goes beyond reproductive rights, and is really about victims’ rights. I am glad that we can bring these diverse groups together and develop a course of action that everyone can agree is in the best interests of victims of sexual assault,” said Senator Vitale.
The bill passed the Assembly by a unanimous vote. It now goes to Governor Codey for his signature.