TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would require hospitals to inform sexual assault victims about emergency contraceptives and provide them upon request was approved by the Senate yesterday by a vote of 33-0, receiving final legislative approval.
“Victims of sexual assault are already robbed of their right to choose a sexual partner, but in cases where the victim becomes pregnant as a result of an assault, they are also forced down a life path that many may not be ready for,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Motherhood should be a blessed event, but for sexual assault survivors, it can be a reminder of their worst nightmare. By requiring emergency contraception when requested, we can allow victims of sexual assault to reclaim at least an aspect of their former lives.”
The bill, S-1668, would direct emergency departments and general hospitals to give female sexual assault victims a pregnancy test. If the test indicates that no pregnancy has already occurred, the facility would be required under this bill to provide the victim with information on emergency contraception and upon request, the contraceptive itself.
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.
“The distinction between the abortion pill and the morning-after pill is about the same as the distinction between a regular abortion and birth control,” said Senator Vitale. “The morning-after pill is essentially a higher dose of the medications many women already take to avoid pregnancy, not to abort pregnancy.”
The bill also provides that written information be developed by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, in collaboration with the Director of the Division on Women, the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault and a sexual assault nurse examiner which 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.
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.
“So many advocates have recognized that compassion dictates we do this,” said Senator Vitale. “Whatever moral or personal beliefs you may have about abortion, offering emergency contraceptives to sexual assault victims is simply the right thing to do.”
The bill passed the Assembly by a unanimous vote in December. It now goes to Governor Codey for his signature.