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Bill could help rape victims

By Andrea Kelly
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
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Phoenix - Health professionals are not required to provide information about emergency contraception when treating a rape victim, but a bill at the Legislature would require them to do so and help to prevent thousands of unwanted pregnancies from rape each year, say supporters.

An Arizona Senate bill would require any health professional treating a victim of sexual assault to provide the patient with information on emergency contraception and then, if the patient requested it, to provide them with the contraception.

Bridget Riceci, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault said the bill would help prevent thousands of unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape each year.

One in five women will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime, and each year 32,000 rape victims are impregnated by their assailant, Riceci said.

She urged the Senate Health Committee to pass the bill to "unite in the interest of rape victims."

The committee passed the bill yesterday, and it now awaits hearing in the full Senate.

Rep. Pete Hershberger, R-Tucson, spoke on behalf of the bill's sponsor, Sen. Gabriel Giffords, D-Tucson, because she was unable to be at the committee meeting.

Hershberger, who is sponsoring a similar bill in the Arizona House of Representatives, said the bill allows health care providers to treat victims of sexual assault as people, rather than just crime scenes, and the bill does not hinder any forensic efforts to gather evidence for prosecution.

"I believe it is very important that we help prevent another trauma of an unwanted pregnancy from a rape," Hershberger said.

The issue hits home to the UA community in light of recent events. Last semester, several sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults near campus and in mostly-student apartment complexes raised concern on how women could protect themselves against, and recover from, the emotional and physical impacts of rape.

Also, James Allen Selby was convicted last October of multiple sexual assaults around campus in 2001.

Other groups supporting the bill included Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the Association of University Women.

The Association of University Women, according to their Web site, "promotes equity for all women and girls, lifelong education, and positive societal change," and its members must have a bachelor's degree or higher.

UA Campus Health and the OASIS Program for Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence were not available for comment on the bill at press time.

Opposition to the bill came from the Arizona College of Emergency Physicians, in Phoenix.

Richard Bitner, legislative council for the college, said the college supports the access for sexual assault victims to emergency contraception, but the language in the bill, mainly the "immediate" provision of emergency contraception could create more liability for medical professionals.

The bill states if a medical professional's personal or religious beliefs prevent him or her from providing the emergency contraception, he or she can fulfill the requirement by "immediately referring the patient to another health care provider who is immediately available and who will comply."

Bitner said this would make medical professionals more liable for following a standard set forth by law, and makes them more liable for lawsuits.

Emergency contraception pills are effective when administered within 72 hours of unprotected sex, and are more effective when administered within 12 to 24 hours after unprotected sex, according to the Campus Health Web site and the Emergency Contraception Hotline.

He said he would prefer an amendment to the bill, changing the phrase to say "in a timely fashion," although the committee did not adopt an amendment.

The bill was passed by a 6-to-1 vote. The only no was from Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, who said he would probably change his vote when the full Senate voted if such an amendment was added to the bill.

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