It’s not like watching “ER” on TV. There are no doctors shouting for epinephrine, no emergency medical technicians rushing gurneys through the aisles, no people screaming that they have been waiting for four hours and no sexy George Clooney. Instead, it is strangely quiet; it actually seems calm. In the midst of the soft bustle in the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital emergency room is a small curtained-off room hiding a woman who has just been raped.
Jefferson is one of only two hospitals in Philadelphia that services adult rape victims. The other is Episcopal Hospital in North Philadelphia.
The victims are left to wait in silence for long periods of time for nurses to prepare for exams.
Today, a police officer waits outside the curtained-off room where a woman sits alone, attempting to sleep while she waits for the exam. Beside him waits a volunteer from the local rape crisis center, hoping the woman will be able to talk soon.
By this point she has relived the events of her assault several times, and now she will have her privacy violated again, though this time by a trained nurse, and given medicine to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
She is one of the lucky ones; one of the few who has had the courage to come forward and one of the even fewer that have access to a properly equipped hospital.
Expedite it, and this is how a rape victim should be treated. They should be allowed every bit of assistance the city has to offer, but it doesn’t work this way everywhere.
A recent story from the “Lebanon Daily News” about a local woman has people in an uproar over poorly equipped hospitals and doctors that refuse to provide treatment. The young woman, a victim of sexual assault, was not informed about emergency contraception due, in part, to the doctor’s personal religious beliefs.
This same story has brought attention to the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act, which was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature last fall. The CARE Act would require hospitals to provide unbiased information about emergency contraception and the drug itself, as well as medication to prevent STIs and a counselor from the local rape crisis center.
The latter two requirements seem easy enough for most people to agree to. Who can deny a rape victim access to protection against possibly deadly diseases?
Likewise, there is no good reason not to contact the local rape crisis center, which in Philadelphia is Women Organized Against Rape. Most women have a difficult time coping after being sexually assaulted, and the counselors, or more often volunteers, that present themselves at the ER are the first step to getting victims counseling.
It is actually the provisions about emergency
contraceptives that keep the bill from being passed. A common misconception about the drug is that it brings about an abortion, which clashes with many conservatives’ beliefs.
Any truthful literature on the pill will say that it prevents implantation from occurring, effectively preventing pregnancy, not aborting an already implanted fetus.
This information shouldn’t matter to a doctor who has the choice to dispense the FDA approved medication to rape victims. It shouldn’t be the doctor’s choice to offer the pill, but rather the woman’s choice to take it. A doctor’s religious beliefs shouldn’t interfere with treatment of a patient, especially a patient who has been through such a traumatic experience.
Each year, an estimated 25,000 to 32,000 women become pregnant as a result of rape. Access to an emergency contraceptive could prevent 22,000 of these pregnancies, according to the CARE Act. It is an injustice that biased doctors and ill-equipped hospitals are making this kind of decision for 22,000 women.
Ashley Helaudais can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.