UPDATE: Missouri hospitals could be required to provide emergency contraception

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 | 8:26 p.m. CST; updated 10:53 a.m. CST, Thursday, March 10, 2011

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story suggested that emergency contraceptives prevent implantation.

JEFFERSON CITY — The House Committee on Children and Families heard a bill Wednesday that would require hospitals to provide emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault.

The bill, which has been called the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act, will ensure that all Missouri hospitals and health care facilities have the drug in stock at all times. A 2009 study showed that the number of hospitals in Missouri that currently stock emergency contraception is less than 50 percent, according to Paige Sweet of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

The patient would not be required to take the emergency contraceptive, but the hospital would be required to inform her of its availability.

The Rev. Pat Vollertsen's daughter, Amanda Vollertsen, was the victim of a sexual assault that resulted in pregnancy. Pat Vollertsen, a constituent from St. Louis, testified in favor of the bill on behalf of her daughter, who has a developmental disability.

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

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 procedure; Pat Vollertsen describes the experience as "the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my whole life."

Emergency contraceptive, commonly known as "the morning after pill," prevents ovulation and inhibits fertilization*.

According to a report by the Princeton University Office of Population Research, the pill reduces 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 testified against the bill. Tyler McClay, the conference's general counsel, spoke at the hearing.

"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," McClay said.

During the hearing, bill sponsor Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis City, referred to emergency contraceptive as "Plan B," though the type of contraceptive which will be offered by hospitals is not clearly stated in the bill. Oxford said she hopes the bill can evolve to clarify which specific type of contraceptive would be used.

According to its manufacturers, Plan B works by providing a large dose of the hormone levonorgestrel to prevent embryonic implantation. But Catholic opponents — and a report by the Catholic Health Association of the United States — assert that there is no data to suggest that the drug prevents fertilization* instead of causing an abortion.

"These articles attempt to answer the question, is emergency contraceptive an abortifacient," Oxford said of the Catholic health association's report. "It is not."

Colleen Coble, CEO of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, spoke in support of the bill.

"It is not a time or an issue for political divides," Coble said. "It's a time to respond to the needs in our community. And quite frankly, the women and girls in the state need our help."

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