TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner welcomed today’s final legislative approval of her 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 and with whom they have a child,” 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. When hospitals give these women the option to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, it is the first step in helping them feel empowered again.”
Under bill S-1668, which is co-sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale, 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.
The bill also requires 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 that 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.
“Victims of sexual crimes have a great deal of physical and emotional pain to overcome in order to return to their regular lives. When they are brought to a hospital, these women must be presented with all of the options available in which to facilitate the healing process, including means of preventing an unwanted pregnancy caused by a criminal act,” said Senator Turner.
The bill also 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 Commissioner of Health and Senior Services would be empowered to assess penalties against facilities shown to have a pattern of noncompliance.
Senator Turner 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 fact that such diverse groups which often disagree over issues of reproductive rights support this bill shows this issue goes beyond those differences, and is really about victims’ rights. I am glad that we can bring these diverse groups together and develop a course of action that is in the best interests of victims of sexual assault,” said Senator Turner.
The bill passed the Senate by a unanimous vote. It now goes to Governor Codey’s desk for his signature.