House hears contraceptive bill for sexual assault victims

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 | 4:46 p.m. CST; updated 8:27 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 9, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — In a public hearing Wednesday, the Children and Families Committee of the Missouri House of Representatives heard a bill that would require hospitals to provide emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault.

According to a study completed in 2009 by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, less than 50 percent of Missouri hospitals currently stock emergency contraception. The bill, which has been called the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act, will ensure all Missouri hospitals and health care facilities have the drug in stock at all times. The patient would not be required to take it, but the hospital would be required to inform her of its availability.

The Rev. Pat Vollertsen's daughter Amanda was the victim of a sexual assault that resulted in pregnancy. Amanda Vollertsen left the room as her mother spoke on her behalf.

Amanda Vollertsen is developmentally disabled, and on March 11, 1999, was raped and impregnated. Amanda refers to this incident as "the bad thing."

"Had we had this offered to us, Amanda would not be afraid of people. She might even have a boyfriend. She would be a different person now with much less fear in her life," Pat Vollertsen said.

The pregnancy threatened Amanda Vollertsen's life, and because of the moratorium on abortion that existed in Missouri at that time, her family was forced to travel to Kansas for her abortion. Pat Vollertsen described the experience as "the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my whole life."

The emergency contraceptive, commonly known as "the morning after pill," prevents ovulation and inhibits implantation by providing a large dose of the hormone levonorgestrel.

According to a 1999 report by the Princeton University Office of Population Research, the pill is known to reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent if taken within the first 72 to 100 hours after unprotected sex.

The Missouri Catholic Conference is among the organizations that oppose the bill.

"The directives (of the church) say that it is not morally permissible to initiate or recommend treatments that have as their purpose, or direct effect, the removal, destruction or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum," Tyler McClay, a spokesman for the Missouri Catholic Conference, said.

The Missouri Catholic Conference's disapproval of the bill stems from the lack of specificity as to what kind of treatment will be offered.

Referencing a report by the Catholic Health Association of the United States, Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis, said, "There are Catholic hospitals who will cooperate with us now out of their belief that it's a moral thing to do."

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