Access to morning-after pill poor in hospital ERs
The results of a new survey show that the availability of Emergency Contraception, also referred to as the “morning after pill,” to prevent unintended Pregnancy is limited in hospital emergency departments in the US, regardless of circumstances or affiliation with the Catholic Church.
Posing as female patients, trained interviewers telephoned emergency department staff at all 597 Catholic hospitals in the US and 615 non-Catholic hospitals to inquire about the availability of Emergency Contraception.
According to the results, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, staff at 42 percent of non-Catholic and 55 percent of Catholic hospitals reported that they do not dispense Emergency Contraception, even in cases of sexual assault.
Twenty-three percent of Catholic hospitals and 17 percent of non-Catholic hospitals reported that they provide Emergency Contraception only to victims of sexual assault.
Only 5 percent of Catholic hospitals and 17 percent of non-Catholic hospitals said that Emergency Contraception is available on request.
In an interview with Reuters Health, Teresa Harrison of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Ibis Reproductive Health, who spearheaded the survey, said she was “surprised at the limited number of hospitals that make Emergency Contraception available without restrictions,” given that there are no specific medical conditions that preclude the use of such drugs.
Among staff members who said their hospital does not provide Emergency Contraception under any circumstance, only about half gave callers a valid referral to where they could obtain emergency contraception.
Currently, only six states allow emergency hormonal contraception to be sold over-the-counter but many states are moving in that direction, Harrison told Reuters Health.
“Women need to recognize that they have a right to this medication and to get educated about emergency contraception,” Harrison said. “Healthcare providers also need to become educated about emergency contraception and hospitals need to develop and communicate written policies that support access to Emergency Contraception,” she added.
Harrison and others are currently conducting a study looking at hospital policy on Emergency Contraception in states that have legislation mandating that women who have been sexually assaulted be provided with emergency contraception. “We are finding that a lot of hospitals don’t have a policy,” Harrison said.
In a related editorial, Dr. Jean Abbott from University Hospital in Denver, Colorado says this survey “provides a rather stinging indictment of the services available for women who request help preventing Pregnancy after either sexual assault or an episode of unprotected intercourse.”
SOURCE: Annals of Emergency Medicine, August 2005.
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