When Religion, False Morality, and Medicine Collide — EC and “Conscience Clauses”

Jacqueline S. Homan, Author: "Classism For Dimwits", "Nothing You Can Possess", "Eyes of a Monster," and "Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie"

Most hospitals across the US have emergency rooms. Emergency rooms deal with the full gamut of medical emergencies ranging from accident victims to emergency childbirths involving women who may be poor and uninsured without any other access to medical care. Emergency rooms essentially triage care in order of medical emergency priority.

And one of those medical emergencies that ER staff commonly see are victims of rape. According to the US Bureau of Crime Statistics, one woman in every five has been raped.

Because rape involves multiple types of physical and emotional trauma, and because rape is a crime involving the need for forensics, most ER’s have at least one member on staff who is specially trained as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) — a specialty forensics nurse.

Becoming a SANE requires at least 40 hours of didactic training in addition to other intense training in order to qualify to sit for the SANE-A exam. Additional training is required to sit for the SANE-P exam. SANE-A refers to a SANE who is Adult/Adolescent certified and SANE-P refers to a SANE who is Pediatric certified. Both are highly specialized health care and forensics fields. The training and credentialing standards are very tough.

Being board certified as a SANE is a statement that a nurse has accepted the challenge of preparing for and passing difficult and demanding examinations demonstrating a mastery of refined knowledge and critical thinking skills in clinical practice.

One cannot become either a SANE-A or a SANE-P (or both) without successful completion of extremely rigorous education. This specialty certification is increasingly becoming an essential nursing credential.

SANE candidates are taught about the trauma and PTSD suffered by rape victims because rape is traumatic. Female rape victims must not only deal with the fear of developing or contracting an incurable STD as a result of the rape, they must also worry about getting pregnant as a result of the rape.

Since pregnancy and childbirth are non-benign medical conditions even under the best of terms where the sex AND the pregnancy were consensual and desired, the last thing society should be doing is forcing women and girls to endure a pregnancy and childbirth that resulted from a rape.

Yet, 47 states have enacted “conscience clause” laws that allow health care practitioners and pharmacists the right to impose their objecting religious beliefs on women by denying them access to contraceptives, and, if need be, abortions. [It would be almost a valid argument if their “moral” objections involved anything besides making sure women are made as miserable and socially devalued as possible.]

These widespread “conscience clause” laws that are now in effect in all except three states (Alabama, New Hampshire, and Vermont) came in on the heels of the US Supreme Court Webster ruling. Disenfranchising women has become an accepted and approved political tool by Congressional candidates such as the newly elected Massachusettes Republican Senator, Scott Brown.

Lawmakers win votes by draping themselves in this “pro-life” mantle which is not about valuing life or about morality — rather it is about oppressing women by forcing them to get pregnant and remain pregnant, even at peril to their own health, well-being, and lives at the expense of their liberty, their happiness, and their freedom. It’s about compulsory maternity against their will.

"Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie", by Jacqueline S. Homan

The Center for Reproductive Health Rights states that almost immediately after the Webster ruling, over 500 various fetal personhood laws and “conscience clause” laws have popped up and were enacted. Unprecedented numbers of health care professionals and pharmacists have increasingly denied women across the country access to birth control. Many drug stores in rural areas have even refused to stock condoms, diaphragms, and contraceptive sponges and Nonoxinol-9 spermicide jellies and foam — none of which require a prescription. This has left countless women and girls unable to defend themselves from unwanted, high risk, and medically dangerous pregnancies.

The answer of telling these women to “just go someplace else” is not a realistic or minimally feasible solution because in many areas, there may not be a “someplace else” they can go. In the Bible Belt and in rural Rust Belt communities, it is not uncommon for every medical facility and pharmacy to refuse to stock and dispense contraceptives — leaving women as hostages with NO choice at all.

And these moves which are causing deliberate harm and inflicting intentional cruelty on women are promoted by politicians — most whom are rich white males who don’t give a fuck about women. At all. Men like Scott Brown who recently won the Senate Congressional seat in the state of Massachusetts. Men who will never have to endure the risks, the permanent bodily damage, the excruciating pain, and possibly death from pregnancy and giving birth.

To give their misogynist pro-childbirth chattel slavery agenda legitimacy, they also trot out and support rich women like Ann Coulter and Alaska’s former governor and US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin who are no more of a friend to women than Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh.

Privileged and powerful lawmakers, governors and judges have done everything they could (and are still doing all they can) to disempower, abuse, endanger, and enslave women.

From Sarah Palin denying funds to reimburse Alaska hospitals for rape kits to the majority of Republican Congressmen who voted on laws that served to deny rape victims their day in court (as well as deny them access to pregnancy prevention) — the Republican (and sell-out Democrat) platform of being “tough on crime” holds that rape victims deserve some rights; so long as those rights do not conflict with those of ruthless corporations, tea-baggers, “patriots”, or super devout Christians — all who want government off their backs but in between your legs.

Scott Brown falls into the last category (at minimum). In 2005, Brown sponsored legislation to allow doctors and nurses to turn away rape victims from Massachusetts emergency rooms if they objected to providing rape victims with emergency contraception (Plan B). Brown stated that a rape victim “could be referred to another facility at no additional cost.” He also said “It’s not about the victim.” Rather, it is about the SANE and the hospital’s “right” to deny contraceptives or abortificants to patients if they’re morally opposed to doing so.

Now, SANE training is supposedly “patient-centered, promoting the health and well-being of rape victims. Why would anyone choose to become a SANE if imposing their “moral” views on traumatized rape victims is more important than that patient’s well-being? A rape victim has already had control over her own body, her bodily integrity, forcibly taken from her against her will by the rapist. How “healing” or “patient-centered” is it to deny rape victims emergency contraception after a rape? And Brown claims this is “not about the victim?”

Really? Okay, so who is it about if it’s not about the victim?

It’s not about the hospital administrators, or the ER staff — the doctor, nurse, or SANE — because they do not have to take emergency contraception themselves if they don’t want to and they are professionals in what is supposedly the humanitarian field of providing “patient-centered” care and healing. So if it’s not about the patient — the rape victim — then who is it about?

Pro-lifers want everyone to believe that it’s all about life, that it’s about “the baby.” But in the case of rape, it is the woman rape victim — not a zygote, a blastocyst, or even a non-viable fetus — who is the patient, brought to the hospital’s ER by police for “patient-centered” care and healing. It’s not about “the baby” unless we’re talking about an infant rape victim. And it’s not about “the baby” because we’re talking about contraception — preventing pregnancy. So again, who is this about?

There is only one logical conclusion here. Denying rape victims emergency contraception is about the rapist.

It’s about giving the rapist’s (or rapists’) sperm (that was implanted without consent) more rights than the woman in whom it was forcibly injected. Denying rape victims in the ER access to emergency contraception isn’t about anybody’s rights except the rapist’s “rights.”

So let’s call it for what it is: denying emergency contraception to rape victims (or any woman for that matter) is a Rapists’ Rights movement.

As for health care providers including pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control, including emergency contraception, because of their “religious beliefs” or “moral objections”; they are in the wrong field and they don’t deserve their jobs.

With emergency contraception such as Plan B, there is a narrow time window involved (72 hours) for it to be effective in preventing pregnancy. Rape victims cannot be taxied from hospital to hospital before someone is finally willing to give them Plan B as part of the rape kit that also takes time to complete.

Becoming a SANE is a choice. Becoming a rape victim is not.

If one chooses to become an ER doctor, nurse, or SANE, expensive and exhaustive training is involved. Any SANE, ER doctor or nurse with such strong objections to providing legal medical services and care should exercise their right to choose a different profession — not enter the medical field just so they can impose control and degrading abuse on patients who are female rape victims.

The rights of a hospital, pharmacy, and health care professional should never be allowed to supersede the rights of patients — especially women rape victims. It isn’t the well-being, health, or future life of that health care worker that is at stake. It is the woman rape victim’s.

And every pregnancy is a potential threat to a woman’s health, well-being, and life — including her economic well-being. Anyone from a nurse to a doctor to a pharmacist to a lawmaker or a judge who deprives a woman of the choice to prevent a pregnancy, to end a pregnancy — especially as the result of a rape — should be forced to contribute to the support of every unwillingly pregnant woman and to both mother and child after that fetus becomes a post-born child.

Rape victims who are ER patients should not be made victims again by hospital staff and religious organizations — especially religious hospitals that qualify for tax-exempt 501(3)(c) status for whom the public at large must pick up the shifted tax burden tab.

There is nothing decent, caring, or moral about forcing a physically and emotionally traumatized woman to risk pregnancy or track down an emergency contraception provider. There is nothing moral about stopping a rape victim (or any other woman) from preventing a pregnancy she does not want, or cannot endure.

Rapists do not have a Constitutional right to force a woman to breed for them and ER staff, hospitals, et al, have no Constitutional right to force rape victims to bear their rapist’s progeny.


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35 Responses to “When Religion, False Morality, and Medicine Collide — EC and “Conscience Clauses””

  1. AuBricker Says:

    The anti-choice movement has, in many cases, evolved the false “morality” evoked by the anti-choice leaders. For many, it have become a way of subordinating and punishing women. For others, anti-choice politics is a way of striking back at feminists.

    Even conservative woman should fear the anti-choice movement. It’s leaders often support a ban on all contraceptives, thereby denying women sexual liberation.

    • AuBricker Says:

      My post should have read “… evolved beyond the false ‘morality’ … .”

    • Jacqueline S. Homan Says:

      It’s deeper than seeking to suppress women’s sexual expression. It is a deliberate desire to cause harm, permanent maiming, injury, and premature death to women. The Republican (and sell-out Democrat) “pro-lifers” leave no pious playboy behind. Once a woman dies before middle age from being worn out in endless cycles of pregnancy and childbirth (some women’s bodies don’t handle pregnancy well at all and even one pregnancy can screw their health up permanently), the “merry widowers” are free to pursue, with penile implants and Viagra in hand, a fresh young supply of trophy wives. This is about wanting to hurt, abuse, enslave, and kill women (after using their bodies up as breeder livestock) without due process — legally.

  2. The Nerd Says:

    When I read this, I wonder how forcing a rape victim to give birth is any different from the Middle Eastern practice of beating or killing rape victims for their “sin”.

    • AuBricker Says:

      I definitely think killing rape victims is worse than forcing them to give birth, but both positions are uncivilized and inhuman.

      • The Nerd Says:

        Oops, I’d better clarify: I don’t mean that they’re the same in practicality. I mean that the motivation is the same, and the lack of empathy for the woman is the same.

      • Jacqueline S. Homan Says:

        I don’t know about that, Aubricker. Being a woman and having been a rape victim myself 28 years ago, I would have definitely killed myself if I would have ended up pregnant as a result of the rape if I had no way out other than forced pregnancy and forced childbirth. Seriously.

        Pregnancy and childbirth is often very traumatic for women, even under the best of circumstances where both the sex and the pregnancy were actively desired. Many women have been traumatized for life as a direct result of having a horrible pregnancy and/or traumatic birth experience, especially where long-term or permanent injuries to the woman were involved.

        The added trauma of all that on top of the initial trauma of the rape is something that the woman would suffer for the rest of her life. Killing the rape victim at least ends the woman’s suffering. That’s how I feel about it, but I will not speak for all other women on this matter, or all other rape victims. But I can tell you this: high rates of depression and suicide/suicide attempts are not uncommon among women who have survived a rape.

    • The Nerd Says:


  3. Andrew Pelt Says:

    Well, we have placed a lot of hope in Scott Brown. All eyes will be upon him for some time…A lot hangs on him. He, right now, is an extremely important member of our congress. Or will be, rather, when he gets sworn in.

  4. Cristen Byington Says:

    Wow, this blog makes a lot of interesting points – I will have to think this over but I think I pretty much agree and will most certainly be back – Cheers!

  5. Larry Carter Center Says:

    Any non-profit hospital which enjoys tax exemption should NOT be allowed to dsicriminate against women and promote a fetal personhood presumption over the rights of women. Such non-profits should have their tax exemption status revoked and full taxes collected on the property as well as the business operating as a “Sisters of Mercy” or any other religious front destroying good medicine for bad religion

  6. Larry Carter Center Says:

    life begins with a willing healthy mom, not rapists forcing sperm inside a woman’s body

  7. health insurance Says:

    I am pro choice for many different reasons, and I value the women that have to make this choice. There are so many campains out there that don’t show real life situations.

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  10. Kelly Says:

    As a woman who has had two children and who was raped (many years earlier) by an ex-boyfriend, I can’t imagine being forced to carry a child that resulted from rape. It is truly horrifying.

    I know it would be of no help to the woman, but wouldn’t it be cool if anyone who invoked the “conscience clause” was forced to financially support any resulting child for the rest of its life? And forced to raise it, if the mother is unwilling or unable to do so? Maybe they would think twice about their crusade anyway.

    I worked for six years with developmentally disabled adults and, sadly, a few of them were raped by their “care givers” in the time I was there. Forcing anyone to carry an unwanted child who is a daily reminder of the violation of your body is unimaginable to me, but forcing that upon a woman who has the developmental level of a 5 year old child is even more brutal.

    I wish the “pro-Life” movement cared about “life” once it exits the birth canal. The world would be a better place.

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  17. Rick Staggenborg Says:

    Great article, Jacqueline. I have only one quibble.

    Men who would deny rape victims needed care, including a contraceptive pill, are not “Super-Christians.” In fact, they are not Christian at all. Jesus did not speak on the subject of the morality of abortion, nor did he live in a time or place where overpopulation threatened the planet and an unwelcome baby is at risk of abuse, neglect and worse.

    Right wingers who claim to be Christian are like “Muslims” who claim to have submitted to Allah as Mohammed explained it but who think it is peachy-keen to murder innocent civilians.

    Jesus also did not beleive in accepting the conclusions of the religious hierarchy when they were clearly more interested in maintinaing their Vichy government in Israel under Roman rule than they were in the moral health of their people. He through the money-lenders out of the Temple but the Sanhedrin missed the point, having him murdered rather than listening. The Temple feel soon after.

    Religionists who all claim to have found the true meaning of the Bible do not understand that Jesus was not calling for a monstrosity like the early Catholic Church to be formed but called on his followers to think for themselves about what he had taught them, in the ancient rabbinacal tradition that is the hallmark of Jewish religious scholarship.

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