RapeBill_SM

SUNDEEP MALLADI/Herald photo

Sexual assault victims would be eligible to receive information and access to emergency contraception treatment, according to legislation introduced Tuesday by state Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, D-Beloit.

"This bill is about patient's rights, proper standards of medical care and how we treat crime victims in the state of Wisconsin," Robson said at a Capitol press conference, surrounded by supporters.

According to Meg Robertson, a nurse who specializes as a sexual assault examiner, sexual assault is physically and emotionally devastating, and most people are unaware of the available treatment options.

"Understandably, when a victim is initially seen in the emergency room, they do not know what questions to ask or what specific treatment options there are to prevent a pregnancy," Robertson said. "Every victim has a right to be told how to prevent a pregnancy after an assault."

Pro-Life Wisconsin, however, opposes the proposed legislation, calling emergency contraception an "abortion-causing drug."

"[We] sympathize with victims of sexual assault who desire to prevent a pregnancy, and we would support, for the women, treatments that truly prevent contraception," said Peggy Hamill, state director of Pro-Life Wisconsin. "However, it is extremely difficult to determine whether or not fertilization has occurred at the time emergency contraception is directed to be taken."

Hamill added, "We must always err on the side of protecting innocent human life."

During Robson's press conference, University of Wisconsin senior Amanda Harrington, a rape survivor, urged lawmakers to support the bill.

"Wisconsin medical providers must be required to inform a female survivor of sexual assault that emergency contraception exists, that she has the right to choose it as a component of her immediate treatment and to dispense it at her request," Harrington said.

Despite previous attempts to pass similar legislation, Robson spokesperson Josh Wescott said sponsors are confident the bill will reach Gov. Jim Doyle's desk since Democrats now hold the Senate majority.

Wescott said Robson is confident in the legislation because, "We also have a number of medical research and public opinion to support our point."

According to Mike Prentiss, a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, the lawmaker does not have an opinion on the legislation at this time.

In a recent poll by the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims Coalition, more than 80 percent of Wisconsin voters said they favored ensuring access to emergency contraception for rape victims.

Emergency contraception — also referred to as the "morning-after pill" — is a high dosage of birth control pills that prevents pregnancy if taken within 120 hours of an assault. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows people over 18 to purchase the drug over the counter.

According to data from the CCRV, over 300,000 women in the United States are sexually assaulted every year. As a result, more than 25,000 sexually assaulted women become pregnant and more than half of these pregnancies end in abortion.

The CCRV estimates about 88 percent of these pregnancies could be prevented if all women who were raped used emergency contraception.

Robson's bill is currently circulating the Legislature and seeking co-sponsorship before formally reaching the Senate.