first: nurse practicioner Rena Rovere. Photo:
A new law requiring hospitals
to provide emergency contraception to rape victims has earned
the support of family-planning advocates and the Roman Catholic
couple of years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine
a New York law involving contraception upon which both the
Roman Catholic Church and reproductive-health advocates could
But contraception following rape involves different sensibilities,
and considerably different semantics, than contraception involving
consensual sexual partners. Thus, with the passage of the
Emergency Contraception for Rape Victims law just before the
Legislature recessed for the summer, New York is expected
to become one of four states that will require hospitals to
provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
The new law would take effect four months after the bill is
signed. As of this writing, Gov. George Pataki had not signed
the bill, but is expected to do so soon, say those who worked
for its passage.
won’t hit any logjam,” predicted Rena Rovere, a nurse practitioner
who runs the sexual-assault forensic program at Albany Medical
Center. Under the program—the only one in Albany County—specially
trained medical staff use forensic techniques to evaluate
victims of sexual assault and collect evidence that can be
used in court.
have a one-time opportunity to collect evidence,” Rovere said.
“This is a living crime scene.”
Albany Medical Center has been providing rape victims with
emergency contraception for at least 15 years, Rovere said.
It turns out that many, but not all, hospitals around the
state have been doing the same.
In a recent survey of 196 New York hospitals conducted by
Family Planning Advocates of New York State and the New York
State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 165 hospitals reported
that they provided emergency contraception to rape victims.
Twenty-eight hospitals reported that they do not provide it,
and three others that generally provide it allow exceptions
for doctors who object.
Reproductive-health advocates say the survey turned out to
be a powerful tool in making their case for the bill.
hospital is one too many,” said JoAnn Smith, president and
CEO of Family Planning Advocates, of the gap in services.
“We think 1,000 women in New York State a year were walking
away—if they could walk—from an emergency room without the
services they needed.”
Getting the pills elsewhere, for rape victims as well as for
the hapless consensual couple who just discovered the condom
broke during lovemaking, is more difficult than you might
think. Family physicians are sometimes reluctant to write
prescriptions for the drugs, often out of ignorance about
how they should be used. Pharmacies may not stock the drugs
or tell women about them.
Washington State, it’s over-the-counter,” said Albany Med’s
Rovere. “You ask the pharmacist, just as you would ask about
the condoms: ‘Where is the emergency contraception?’ This
is so safe. There are so many abortions of married women who
could have had emergency contraception.”
Doctors sometimes believe that the drugs can harm an embryo
or cause an abortion, even though research indicates that
they don’t do either, Rovere said. Emergency contraception
works by stopping fertilization, or by stopping the fertilized
egg from implanting in the uterus, before a pregnancy has
But that’s where it got tricky for the New York State Catholic
Conference, which objected to language in the bill that “did
not leave any discretion for physicians or hospitals dispensing
the medication—if it was demanded, it had to be given,” said
Dennis Poust, a conference spokesman.
though the makers of the drug say it won’t (harm an embryo),
it’s certainly not good for a pregnancy,” Poust said.
This isn’t the first time the conference has objected to a
bill addressing contraception. Two years ago, the conference
bitterly opposed the Women’s Health and Wellness Act, which
requires employers to provide insurance coverage for birth
control, but does allow some exemptions for religious reasons.
The conference didn’t think the exemptions were broad enough
to satisfy its objection to birth control, and sued the state
to get the law overturned. That dispute is still in court.
Catholic teaching does allow a rape victim to use emergency
contraception, however, and Poust notes that a number of Catholic
hospitals already provide it. But Catholic hospitals will
not give emergency contraception if the fertilized egg has
already implanted—hence, the conference’s insistence on language
that guaranteed hospitals the right to do a pregnancy test
Reproductive-health advocates downplay the significance of
the language change, pointing out that no doctor would give
emergency contraception without a pregnancy test anyhow, because
a pregnant patient is past the point where the drug can help.
Instead, they focus on the fact that the new law will provide
a uniform standard of treatment.
knew prior to this survey that there were some hospitals that
were not providing pregnancy prophylactics for sexual-assault
survivors,” said Anne Liske, executive director of New York
State Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “It wasn’t a sectarian/nonsectarian
issue. I think the survey just showed the numbers.”
groups put Pataki’s feet to the fire over his dragging them
on global-warming initative
than two years after Gov. George E. Pataki pledged to fight
global warming with the creation of his Greenhouse Gas Task
Force, dissatisfied environmental groups are turning up the
When forming the task force in June 2001, Pataki pledged to
be a national leader in reducing carbon dioxide emissions,
and a number of environmental groups took note. But those
who did quickly became critics when Pataki, rather than pushing
for legislation, invited other states throughout the Northeast
to join in the fight against greenhouse-gas emissions, a stalling
technique to put off doing what needs to be done, said Jason
K. Babbie, an environmental policy analyst with New York Public
Interest Research Group.
[Pataki] wants to indeed be a national leader, he needs to
act,” said Babbie. “He should really be leading by example.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council, NYPIRG, and Environmental
Advocates of New York held a press conference on June 15 with
two objectives in mind: to illustrate current global-warming
policies in New York state and to assert what they feel should
be the next step on Pataki’s agenda.
Babbie said Pataki should follow the recommendations made
by the task force, especially the carbon dioxide cap on power
plants. According to the task force, carbon dioxide emission
could be capped to 25 percent of its 1990 level, which would
avoid 1.42 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions per year
by 2010 with virtually no impact on utility rates. However,
it recommends only a 5-percent decrease in carbon dioxide
emission levels from the 1990 level by 2010 and a 10-percent
decrease by 2020.
In all, the task force made 27 recommendations, and Tom Peterson,
director of analysis for the Center for Clean Air Policy,
said a few of the recommendations would be vital to reducing
carbon-dioxide emission throughout the state.
The task force recommended continuing state funding for municipalities
and organizations working toward energy- efficient housing
and businesses, and creating gas-emission standards for passenger
vehicles. The task force’s most notable proposal, Peterson
said, would be to require that a percentage of in-state electricity
generation come from renewable sources.
reaction then, and during, the whole task-force process was
a regional cap [on greenhouse gas emissions] would be wonderful,”
said Anne Reynolds, air and energy program director with Environmental
Advocates New York, “but what we need is a state to take concrete
Although Reynolds hopes the other states agree with the recommendations
and the process of rule-making would begin, she concedes that
it is not likely. What will probably happen, according to
Reynolds, is that the states expressing interest will work
with New York in another round of analysis, similar to the
Greenhouse Gas Task Force’s two-year study.
Of the task force’s recommendations, the carbon cap for the
power (utilities) sector and the transportation actions would
cut pollution the most, Reynolds said.
going to continue to remind [Pataki] that this is what New
Yorkers want,” said Babbie, who asserts that NYPIRG will maintain
its work with environmental groups to pressure the Pataki
administration to take action.
Pataki’s press office and the Department of Environmental
Conservation failed to return multiple calls to comment for
The 10 northeastern states invited to join New York in passing
a carbon dioxide emission cap were asked to respond by July
23. As of press time on that day, there was no information
on the states’ verdict.