Letter from Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates

Dear CARE Coalition members:

As you may have heard, the CARE Act was recently passed out of the Public Welfare committee by a vote of 7-3. In committee, the original bill was amended to include exception language that allows some hospitals the ability to refuse to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. The bill has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee and will need to pass both the full House and Senate. The exception was being pushed very hard by lobbyists trying to characterize emergency contraception as an abortifacient, which it is not. As a result, legislators who want to demonstrate their support for religious institutions voted to approve a measure that allows religious hospitals an exemption from providing emergency contraception.

At present, PCAR and Planned Parenthood--two of the lead organizations who have provided staff support to the CARE Coalition--find ourselves in somewhat different positions regarding this exemption issue. This is one of the difficulties of coalitions; we work together when we have common goals, but our goals and our missions are not always exactly the same. At present, Planned Parenthood and PCAR are both supporting the original CARE Act. PCAR has determined that the amendment that provides an exception for some hospitals would be acceptable and Planned Parenthood has expressed significant concerns about it.

Planned Parenthood's long-time support for the CARE Act as originally written is based on our unwavering support for rape victims and their right to access safe and effective medication to prevent becoming pregnant by their attacker. Our concern about Amendment 09641 stems from the legal protection the amendment extends to religiously affiliated hospitals. We believe that allowing some hospitals the ability to refuse to provide emergency contraception contradicts the nationally accepted medical standard of providing comprehensive care to a rape victim.

Most of us are familiar with the real-life experience of the rape victim from Lebanon County who last month was denied emergency contraception at Good Samaritan hospital. With the religious exception detailed above, the current version of the CARE Act, as amended would not have prevented Good Samaritan Hospital from refusing to provide the Lebanon County victim with the emergency contraception she requested.

We recognize the importance of protecting religious freedom. However, we believe that the lobbyists pushing for this exemption were not negotiating in good faith, but rather took advantage of the current attention to this issues because of the Lebanon refusal to carve out inappropriate exceptions for institutions (which are well protected by the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act already) rather than focusing on the rights of victims. We are concerned that this law, if passed with this amendment, would not have helped the woman in Lebanon County. Her story and her bravery, which served to provide the momentum that brought attention to this failure of public policy would not result in a law that would change anything for women who go to that hospital.

Additionally, we are concerned that the amendment could set a precedent that allows organizations to make decisions about treatment for patients, rather than using medically accepted standards as the only measure. Exceptions should apply to people who have personal, deeply held convictions, not buildings. And institutions that receive public funds should be accountable to state standards. We also recognize that this bill, if passed, will help the women who are fortunate enough to present in emergency departments in some hospitals in Pennsylvania. So, we are treading carefully: we are expressing our concerns, while still supporting the original bill.

We believe that situations such as these should not be used to divide those of us who work together on so many issues that deal with the lives of individuals and toward many common goals even when we have differences. We respect each organization's responsibility to its own mission and the need to make difficult choices about how best to achieve goals. We think the story here is not that there are minor differences of opinion about the acceptability of the amendment; the real story here is that our legislature can't even do something as simple as provide medical assistance to rape victims unless a woman who was raped tells her story publicly and then--even when they finally act --the bill that should address the problem is still flawed and fails to provide comprehensive care for every woman who is raped in Pennsylvania.

The legislature can and should do better.

 

Susan Gobreski, President & CEO

Sari (Bultman) Stevens, Director of Public Affairs, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates