What a New Bill Could Mean for Survivors of Sexual Assault
Last week, In an effort to fight the spread of misinformation about emergency contraception, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced Senate Bill 2876, the Emergency Contraception Acess and Education Act. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Warren (D-Mass.), Boxer (D-Calif.), Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Booker (D-N.J.), would require all hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding to provide survivors of sexual assault with accurate information and quick access to emergency contraception, regardless of the victim’s financial standing. Additionally, the bill mandates that the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services provide pharmacists and health care providers with accurate information regarding these preventive medications.
“Emergency contraception is a safe, responsible and effective means of preventing unintended pregnancies — a goal we all should share,” Sen. Murray said Tuesday, as reported by The Hill. “Unfortunately, in spite of its increased availability, emergency contraception remains an underused prevention method in the United States, especially for survivors of sexual assault.”
In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded a decade-long period of evaluation by issuing a recommendation that emergency contraception such as Plan B One-Step be made available without a prescription to all individuals with child-bearing potential. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) overruled the FDA, limiting prescription-free access to these time-sensitive medications to those age 17 and up. Even so, people of all ages have hit roadblocks when trying to obtain these contraceptives.
That same year, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly 20 percent of all individuals who called a pharmacy inquiring about emergency contraception were flat out told that it was unavailable at that location.
An estimated 30,000 women become pregnant each year as the result of rape or incest. As accessing preventive care like contraceptives becomes increasingly difficult — with many states introducing laws to restrict access — victims of sexual assault are left with few options.
While Congress’ track record on passing legislation designed to protect victims of sexual assault has been less than ideal, debate on this bill will, at the very least, raise awareness about the continuing struggles rape survivors face in the aftermath of a heinous crime.