- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut state House yesterday overwhelmingly approved a bill to require all hospitals to provide rape victims emergency contraception, over objections from Catholic leaders who say it infringes on their religious freedom.

The legislation, which passed the Democrat-controlled Senate last week, now moves to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican who said she was inclined to support it but would not decide until she saw the bill.

The 113-36 vote in the Democrat-controlled House came after a three-hour debate and over protests from Catholic hospitals and church leaders in the state who say the measure forces them to violate the church’s teachings against both contraception and abortion and thus denies their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

The emergency contraception, known as Plan B, is a concentrated dose of the same drug found in many regular birth-control pills. Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, a woman can lower the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent. The pill can prevent a fertilized embryo from attaching itself to the uterine wall but will not detach an embryo already there.

Church leaders say that even the first scenario would constitute an abortion because life begins at conception. Last year, Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell directed the four Catholic hospitals in the state not to prescribe the drug if a rape victim is ovulating or an egg has been fertilized.

Proponents said health care for rape victims should be consistent for all Connecticut hospitals.

In an effort to appease the Catholic Church, the bill allows an independent, third-party health care provider, such as a rape crisis nurse, to distribute the drug. Church officials objected to the provision, saying the requirements to hire such an outside health care provider and have the drug distributed on hospital grounds still constitutes cooperation with abortion and can leave the impression that the church is complicit.

The measure also requires a pregnancy test before the drug is administered.

Barry Feldman, a lawyer for the Connecticut Catholic Hospitals Council, said Bishop Mansell is very disappointed. The state’s bishops must now consider their options, including possible legal action, he said.

“I know that he regards this as a blow to religious freedom in Connecticut, religious freedom not just of the Catholic Church and Catholic organizations, but every individual and every religious organization in the state,” Mr. Feldman said.

The legislation is similar to laws passed in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota with support from church officials there.

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