How Catholic hospitals respond to state laws mandating provision of emergency contraception to sexual assault patients

Catholics for Choice commissioned Ibis to examine whether Catholic hospitals in states that had “EC [emergency contraception] in the ER” legislation were complying with the law. We conducted a two-phase study in mid-2005. First, we anonymously surveyed staff answering the telephone at all of the Catholic hospitals in the four target states to determine responses to an inquiry about the availability of EC at their hospitals. Second, we surveyed sexual assault nurse examiners and/or nurse managers to document Catholic hospitals’ written policies regarding EC-related services for sexual assault patients.

We found that 35% of mystery client respondents indicated that EC was not available under any circumstance at their hospitals. About half refused to provide callers with a referral to another facility for EC and, of those who did receive a referral, 47% did not lead to another facility that could provide EC. Callers felt that 20% of respondents had a negative attitude towards them, which included being evasive, hanging up on them, or scolding them.

Only 62% of hospital nurses reported treating sexual assault patients. Among these hospitals, 76% had a written EC protocol, 95% routinely provided EC counseling, and 86% routinely offered EC. The fact that so many Catholic hospitals do not treat sexual assault patients raises the question of whether these women have timely access to EC. Are Catholic hospitals choosing not to treat sexual assault patients to circumvent EC legislation? The effectiveness of EC laws appears limited because they only apply to hospitals that treat sexual assault patients and do not require all hospitals to at least provide EC before transferring patients to another facility.