|By Natasha Clark|
Reminder Assistant Editor
SPRINGFIELD Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (PPLM) recently announced an initiative to increase women's access to emergency contraception (commonly known as the "morning after pill") in western Massachusetts.
According to information released by the organization, a study by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts found that 12 out of 71 emergency rooms in Massachusetts - approximately one in six - do not provide emergency contraception to women who have been raped.
Three local hospitals that offer the "morning after pill," include Holyoke Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center and Noble Hospital.
A 2003 report titled "Rape in Massachusetts: A Report to the State," by Dean G. Kilpatrick, Ph.D., and Kenneth J. Ruggiero, Ph.D. in April of 2003, found that "of the nearly 2.6 million adult women living in Massachusetts, about 340,000 have been raped at least once during their lives, and of the 180,000 women living in Hampden County, nearly 24,000 have ever been raped."
"These estimates are conservative because they do not include women who were never forcibly raped but who have experienced alcohol- or drug-facilitated rape, incapacitated rape, statutory rape (i.e., rapes in which the perpetrator had sex with an underage child or adolescent without using force or threat of force), or attempted rape," the report continued.
One of the conclusions in their executive summary is that "Massachusetts has a substantial rape problem as reflected by our conservative estimate that nearly one of every seven adult women, or about 340,000 adult women in Massachusetts, has been the victim of forcible rape sometime in her lifetime."
"We would really like to see [the pill] available to every rape victim," said Debbie Fenton, Center Director of the Springfield chapter of PPLM.
Mercy Medical Center, of Sisters of Providence Health Systems, supports those sentiments.
When Reminder Publications spoke with Mercy's Director of Advocacy Susan Fenelon Kerr, she said that Mercy recognizes that women should be protected.
"If somebody comes to [Mercy's] emergency room after a sexual assault, they would be able to get the emergency contraception after a negative pregnancy test result. That is according to the ethical and religious directives of catholic health services. The policy reflects that rape is an evil act and that a woman should be able to be protected from conception as a result of this criminal and evil act," Kerr explained.
Fenton said the "morning after pill" is mistakenly confused with RU-486, an abortion tablet.
"RU-486 is used to terminate an existing pregnancy. This pill is preventative. It prevents ovulation, implantation, fertilization," Fenton said.
Holyoke Medical Center's Attending Physician at the Emergency Room Paul Gerstein, M.D., supported that statement.
"The 'morning after pill' works by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. This issimilar tothe action of the birth control pill.In fact, it's just a higher dosage of the birth control pill."
Gerstein also said that patients "can get the morning after pill on request at Holyoke Medical Center, as long as there are no contraindications. The morning after pill is not intended for use after pregnancy and will not induce an abortion.If unintentionally takenduring earlypregnancy, it's not likely to do any harm. However, itis contraindicated in the setting of pregnancy."
However, Gerstein said it is not known for certain whether or not it could pose a potential problem to the unborn child.
Chairman of the Department of Emergency Room Medicine Dr. Stanley D. Strzempko, of Noble Hospital said that occasionally they provide the contraception as well.
"It happens with us in two circumstances, sexual assault [victims], and we have Westfield State College down the street [from us]. Occasionally, we'll get [students] from Westfield State requesting [it.]," Strzempko said.
He said there was a consensus at the hospital, and the "consensus was to provide it as a matter of policy, and now we do."
Fenton said PPLM would also like to see the pill available to women over the counter. She said access is available through PPLM by calling them or visiting ww.pplm.org.
Side effects of the "morning after pill" can include nausea and vomiting.
"[PPLM] is very committed to prevention," Fenton added.
Baystate Medical Center did not reply to phone interview requests by press time.