A bill that "specifies that anyone providing medical services cannot be required to perform or participate in activities that violate his or her conscience or principles" was recently approved during its first round in the Missouri House of Representatives. It is contentious, as some contend that it enables physicians and pharmacists to deny rape survivors accessibility to not only abortion services, but also preventative pregnancy measures such as Plan B (also known as the morning-after pill). This particular issue extends beyond state boundaries and is eminent on the national front as well. Recently, impressive advances were made with the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA). Despite the progressive movement, advocates failed to address emergency contraception during the debates regarding VAWA.
Women's health advocates not pushing for this on the agenda when discussing the bill has major implications. Specifically, VAWA not explicitly guaranteeing emergency contraception to women is a serious threat to women's reproductive rights on multiple levels.
One of the largest misconceptions about emergency contraception is that the morning-after pill is a form of abortion, which is sometimes equated with murder, and the pill disrupts implantation. In reality, the pill can delay ovulation, prevent the release of the egg from the ovary, or prevent implantation of the egg. If the egg is already implanted, the pill has no effect on the body. Even if the pill was able to act post-implantation, there is no life that exists immediately afterward. When people state that using the pill as a form of murder, they must also believe that every time a woman menstruates and drops an egg that goes unfertilized, she is "committing murder."
Plan B is especially important in cases of rape. Without a clause explicitly enabling women the right to emergency contraception, medical practitioners can deny survivors the opportunity to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
Depriving a woman her reproductive rights is a flagrant violation of human rights. The evidence of the rape is physically evident on her body throughout the pregnancy. But beyond the unmistakable mark, the woman must also deal with the psychological and dehumanizing effects of the act. The woman is subdued with trauma and stigma, and for the rest of her life, she is forced to live with a child she unwillingly had to birth.
Coping with an unwanted pregnancy is not only commonplace for rape, but also an important issue for failed contraception during sex. Condoms can break and can be inappropriately used. Women can forget to take birth control. Even more importantly, a woman should have the right to decide what happens to her body. She should decide how to live her life and have the choice to determine whether or not she wants to have a child.
Unfortunately, VAWA does not guarantee these rights. Politics has managed to interfere with the scientific world and the realm of human rights once again. The idea of providing emergency contraception has become so politicized that people have lost sight of the reproductive rights aspect of the debate. They are so focused on the left and right divide that the commonalities are slowly becoming veiled in the process.
While women's health advocates did not push for emergency contraception when they had the chance, the battle is not over. Somehow, among the several other heated controversies regarding women’s rights, the topic was lost in conversation. However, it is never too late to act.