WASHINGTON - December 20 - The American Civil Liberties Union today, along with a broad
coalition of sexual assault groups, religious leaders, and women’s health
advocates, criticized the U.S. Department of Justice’s refusal to release
records pertaining to the department’s failure to include any reference to
emergency contraception in the first-ever national protocol for treating sexual
The government’s refusal to turn over documents that could shed light on why
the national protocol fails to include essential information on preventing
pregnancy begs the question, ‘What are they trying to hide?’” said Louise
Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
Research shows that if emergency facilities routinely provide emergency
contraception to rape victims, up to 22,000 of the 25,000 pregnancies that
result from rape each year could be prevented. Nevertheless, late last
year, the Department of Justice released the first-ever national protocol for
treating sexual assault victims and failed to mention emergency contraception or
recommend that it be routinely offered to women who have been raped.
In August of this year, following news reports that information about
pregnancy prevention and emergency contraception was removed from the final
protocol, the ACLU, on behalf of a broad coalition, sent a Freedom of
Information Act request asking the Justice Department to provide records
pertaining to the removal of the information.
Instead of providing earlier drafts of the protocol and other responsive
materials, the Justice Department sent the ACLU a set of documents used to help
develop a preliminary national protocol, including treatment recommendations
from the American College of Emergency Physicians, several state protocols, and
a copy of an article on forensic evidence collection. All of these
documents, unlike the national protocol, discuss pregnancy prevention in
detail. Most either provide instructions for prescribing emergency
contraception or specifically recommend that emergency contraception be offered
to rape victims.
“Clearly, the Justice Department reviewed documents highlighting the
importance of helping sexual assault victims prevent pregnancy,” said
Melling. “In light of this evidence, it is troubling that the protocols
remain silent on the issue and fail to protect women.”
In its request, the ACLU represented a coalition of groups, including
Christians for Justice Action, Family Planning Advocates of New York State,
MergerWatch, Montana Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault,
NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Council of Jewish Women, and Planned
Parenthood Federation of America, among others.
Emergency contraception, often referred to as “the morning-after pill,”
reduces the risk of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent if the first dose is
taken within days of unprotected intercourse, but it is more effective the
sooner it is taken.
Samples of relevant portions of the documents provided by the Justice
Department are available online at www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/religion/23118lgl20051220.html.
For information about sexual assault survivors’ experiences obtaining
emergency contraception, visit www.RaisingHerVoice.org, a project of
the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project of the ACLU of