Women’s rights advocates used Monday the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade to encourage the General Assembly to approve legislation that mandates the distribution of emergency contraception to rape victims.“Last session it seemed we had gone back in time to pre-1965 when birth control was not only illegal, but viewed as immoral and harmful to women,” Carolyn Treiss, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, said Monday. “The General Assembly’s failure to pass the ‘EC in the ER’ bill and the Attorney General’s fight with Wal-Mart over Plan B demonstrates that we in the pro-choice state of Connecticut are not immune from the far right’s extreme attacks on birth control.”
The legislation failed to make it out of the Public Health Committee last year, but was resurrected as part of the Appropriations Committee budget. The Appropriations budget language threatened to withhold funding from Catholic hospitals that refused to distribute emergency contraception, also known as Plan B, a concentrated dose of birth control, to rape victims.At the time, Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven and Rep. Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said the Catholic Church wasn’t willing to come and sit down at the table to discuss the various differences surrounding the issue. “We wanted to draw attention to it, by saying if you aren’t willing to provide it, there will be consequences,” Harp said last year. At the end of the last legislative session Harp’s plan was to work out their differences with the Catholic Church, however that didn’t happen so the legislation is back. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides ethical and religious directives to Catholic hospitals. Directive 36 states that: “A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault,” however, the language allows for interpretation and discretion by local bishops and hospital officials, Catholics for a Free Choice said in their 2006 study of the issue. The problem with the directive is there’s no test out there that detects conception and emergency contraception does just that, it prevents conception. Treiss said the arguments we heard against the bill, for example, “statements equating contraception with abortion, were shocking, but even more so when it seemed that they were being given credence among some of Connecticut’s legislators.” A May 2, 2006 Quinnipiac University poll found widespread support, even amongst Catholics for a law requiring all Connecticut hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. The poll found 78 percent of those polled were in favor of the legislation while just 17 percent were against it. Amongst Catholics the numbers remained about the same, 74 percent of people who identified themselves as Catholics were in support of the measure, while just 21 percent of Catholics opposed it. “They understand that birth control and pregnancy prevention are areas where both sides of the debate should be able to find common ground,” Treiss said referring to the poll results. So far 53 legislators have signed the proposed bill 685.