“I don't think you are supposed to put others through hell so you can avoid it yourself.”
- A Good Friend -
In the cold, early morning hours of January 1, 1974, a good friend, then a 19-year-old college student, was driving home alone from a New Year’s Eve party. Her Volkswagen was forced off the road. She was dragged kicking and screaming into the van of a man who had decided to kidnap and rape her. My friend spent the hours immediately after her brutal violation convincing the man not to kill her.
“A van appeared out of nowhere attempting to run me off the road. I was panic-stricken. I pulled into a parking lot where two men were preparing morning papers for delivery and ran from my car trying to reach them. My attacker caught me from behind and dragged me into his van. I was so close to the paper men I could almost touch them. I screamed for them to help me. The man who would rape me shouted to them that I was his girlfriend and that we were having a fight. Apparently that was okay with the paper men.”
“He drove to an isolated area in a nearby town, then ordered me to take off my clothes and get in the back of the van. I fought him until he punched me. I remembered hearing once that the best way to survive a violent sexual assault was to give in, so I did. The guilt of doing so haunted me for years.”
The Wisconsin State Senate overwhelmingly passed the “Compassionate Care for Rape Victims,” a bill that requires hospitals providing emergency services to inform a rape victim of her right to receive Plan B emergency contraception (high-dosage birth control pills administered within 72 hours of intercourse) and to immediately provide it upon her request.
The bill was referred to the Assembly Judiciary and Ethics Committee, where it was amended by the committee chair, Rep. Mark Gundrum, a dogmatic Roman Catholic who was awarded the 1999 Legislator of the Year Award by Pro-Life Wisconsin, an anti-contraceptives/anti-choice organization opposed to the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims bill.
The amendment was a “conscience clause” allowing healthcare providers to opt out of informing a rape victim about the Plan B emergency contraception option because of religious or moral beliefs. The amendment was passed by a 6-4 party line vote in the Republican controlled committee.
Rep. Gundrum included the amendment because he believes there were some First Amendment issues with the bill, “ freedom of speech and freedom of religion . . . forcing people to say things they don’t mean . . . that may be against their religious beliefs.”
This amendment becomes a serious problem in the first 72 hours of a rape crisis, especially in rural areas with small medical clinics, if one or more of the healthcare providers have religious convictions against informing a victim of rape that she has an option that will safely and effectively prevent her from becoming pregnant with her assailant’s child. One-third of reproductive age women remain unaware of emergency contraception.
The Wisconsin compassionate care law has nothing to do with freedom of speech or freedom of religion and everything to do with appropriate, responsible, legal health care . . . not to mention basic humanity.
“After he raped me, he said he didn't know what to do with me. He said that he could kill me and I thought he would. There were shotgun shells strewn across the dashboard and he said he had a shotgun.”
“In the days and weeks following the rape I did not sleep, I could not eat, and I was afraid to be out after dark. My entire life changed. There simply are no words to describe the shame and guilt that became so much a part of my life. I remember soaking in the tub for what seemed like hours, night after night, attempting to cleanse myself of the filth of the rape.”
In 2004 there were 1,134 forcible rapes—one every 7 hours and 43 minutes—reported in Wisconsin. One in four of those victims said they feared death or serious injury.
Nationally, over 300,000 forcible rapes are reported each year. Twenty-five thousand of these women will become pregnant. If these victims have timely access to Plan B emergency contraception, an estimated 22,000 pregnancies—almost 90 percent—could be prevented.
A 1996 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that 50 percent of rape-related pregnancies end in abortion. Plan B would prevent these abortions.
“I was so young and so naïve that it didn't immediately occur to me I could be pregnant. I was a virgin the morning I was raped. I was not using birth control. Plan B emergency contraception was not an option 33 years ago. The only options at the time were to have had an abortion or to carry to term and give birth to the child of the man who had kidnapped and raped and threatened to kill me. I became possessed by this decision, wondering if I would see this man's face in the child. And if I chose to have his child, could I love it the way a child needs to be loved . . . unconditionally. Would I ever heal? In the end, I decided I could not have an abortion. I would have chosen Plan B, however.”
There is federal legislation, the “Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act,” in both houses of Congress that will require hospitals receiving federal funds through the Medicare and Medicaid programs to provide Plan B emergency contraception to rape victims.
One can safely assume that right-wing Christian organizations such as “Focus on the Family” and “Concerned Women of America” will be putting their considerable political clout into melting the spine of any politician with the slightest inclination to support the federal CARE Act. Like Wisconsin’s compassionate care law, it will no doubt get locked up in committee, eviscerated and forgotten about. This is, after all, not the first attempt at passing such federal legislation.
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Biography: Robert Weitzel is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience (www.mwcnews.net). His essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI.