February 2006

Complying with the Law: How Catholic hospitals respond to state laws mandating the provision of emergency contraception to sexual assault patients

Ibis Reproductive Health. Complying with the Law: How Catholic hospitals respond to state laws mandating the provision of emergency contraception to sexual assault patients. Catholics for a Free Choice: Washington, DC. February 2006.

Expanding access to EC is crucial because hospital emergency departments are often the first point of contact for women who have been sexually assaulted. A potential obstacle to the provision of EC in Catholic hospitals is the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services developed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. These guidelines  were designed to ensure that the nation’s 611 Catholic hospitals do not violate Catholic teaching which prohibits the use of artificial contraception. Directive 36, however, sets forth circumstances under which Catholic teaching allows for the use of EC for “a female who has been raped to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault…if, after appropriate testing there is no indication that she is pregnant.” This guideline is well-intentioned, yet its complexity allows for interpretation and discretion on the part of local bishops, hospital administration and staff.

Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) commissioned Ibis Reproductive Health to conduct a survey to determine whether Catholic hospitals in states that have “EC in the ER” legislation are complying with those laws. At the time of this study, California, New Mexico, New York and Washington had explicit “EC in the ER” bills, while South Carolina had a statute specifying that the state will pay for the costs of routine care for sexual assault patients, including emergency contraception. This statute has been interpreted as mandating the provision of EC in the emergency department. No Catholic hospitals were operating in New Mexico at the time of data collection. None of the states’ laws exempt Catholic hospitals from providing EC to sexual assault patients.