"Best Help for Rape Victims Act" Seeks to Correct Controversial Omission in U.S. Department of Justice Sexual Assault Treatment Guidelines
Sunday, May 1, 2005 12:20 PM

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) released the first National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examination in 2004. The 130 page guideline provides step-by-step recommendations for the treatment of rape victims by medical professionals and is being distributed to health care facilities nationwide. The guidelines make no mention of emergency contraception, commonly referred to as the Morning After pill, although the information was in early drafts of the guideline. This decision has angered many in the medical community and sexault assault victims' advocates.  The "Best Help for Rape Victims Act" was introduced in March 2005 to require the DOJ to include emergency contraception in the National Protocol.

“This bipartisan legislation is about basic human rights for victims of sexual assault who have been traumatized by their attack and are in dire need of necessary medical assistance and treatment. Providing basic information regarding emergency contraceptives is only a sensible step to help such victims confront the potential consequences of their attack,” said Act co-sponsor Congresswoman Diane Watson

Every year 25,000 women become pregnant in the United States as a result of a sexual assault. As recognized by the DOJ, pregnancy is “often an overwhelming and genuine fear,” for rape victims. Emergency contraception is approved by the FDA and has been repeatedly found to be safe and effective in reducing the risk of pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that emergency contraception be offered to all sexual assault victims at risk of pregnancy.

Emergency contraception prevents eggs from being released or fertilized and, in some cases, keeps a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Routine use of emergency contraception could reduce the annual number of pregnancies by rape by 22,000.  The prevention of implantation has made emergency contraception controversial as it raises the debate about whether it should be considered a form of abortion.

Critizing the DOJ's decision to exclude the information, Act co-sponsor Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said: "We should be doing everything we can to help rape victims recover from sexual attacks, not withholding important health information from them."

Currently only four of the fifty states require emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault. In a recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union of eleven states, emergency contraception was provided in fewer that 40% of emergency health care facilities in eight states. Emergency contraception is over 95% effective if taken within the first 24 hours after a sexual encounter and up to 89% effective if stared within 120 hours. Emergency contraception's window of effectiveness makes timely access critically important for women who desire the treatment.


Compiled from: "Helping Rape Victims: New Bill Would Change DOJ Decision to Exclude Morning After Pill From National Treatment Guidelines", Press Release, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney; "New Bill Seeks to Correct Decision to Omit EC from National Guidelines" Feminist Daily News Wire 14 March 2005; "Department of Justice Fails Rape Victims," The ACLU of Southern California Take Action Network; "Preventing Pregnancy after Rape: Emergency Cafre Facilities Put Women at Risk" ACLU, 2004; "'Best Help for Rape Victims Act' Giant Step Forward For Survivors of Sexual Assault Addresses Glaring Omission of Emergency Contraception From Department of Justice (DOJ) Sexual Assault Treatment Guidelines" Planned Parenthood 10 March 2005; "Guidelines for Treating Rape Victims Omit Emergency Contraction" http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org;