MADISON (AP) — Wisconsin has fined 22 hospitals — including Watertown Regional Medical Center — for not complying with a law requiring them to offer emergency contraception to rape victims.
The 2008 law requires emergency rooms to give sexual assault victims information about the so-called “morning-after pill,” to provide the drugs on request, and to train staff about the drugs.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that the Watertown Regional Medical Center was fined $7,500 in 2013.
Watertown Regional has been in compliance with the law since the hospital was fined, said Amy Hayden, marketing manager.
SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison was fined $7,500 in 2015. The Department of Human Services says the hospital failed to inform three sexual assault patients about emergency contraception or make it available. During a state inspection that led to the fine, the ER director at St. Mary’s, a Catholic institution, said the hospital had two reasons for not complying: its religious affiliation and its policy of transferring sexual assault patients to UnityPoint Health-Meriter, which has a forensic nurse examiners program that investigates rape.
In June 2015, the hospital revised its policy to comply with the law, according to documents the Wisconsin State Journal obtained from the health department.
Kim Sveum, St. Mary’s spokeswoman, said hospital policy allowed emergency contraception before the fine and was clarified afterward.
The hospital has provided information about emergency contraception to 13 patients since June 2015 and given the pills to two patients who requested them, Sveum said.
In addition to Watertown and St. Mary’s, other hospitals fined included those in Sheboygan, Oconto, Durand, Cumberland, Superior, Park Falls, Hayward, Oconto Falls, Osceola, Eau Claire, Darlington, Oshkosh, Stanley, Monroe, Wausau, River Falls, Spooner, St. Croix Falls, Shawano and Viroqua.
Emergency contraception, first approved in the late 1990s, greatly reduces the chance of pregnancy if taken within three to five days of sexual intercourse.
Proponents say the drugs can alleviate rape victims’ worry over being impregnated by their attackers, and reduce abortions. Opponents say the pills amount to abortion because they can block implantation of a fertilized egg.
Former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle signed Wisconsin’s law, which was supported mostly by Democrats but also some Republicans. Democrats controlled the state Senate at the time and Republicans had a narrow majority in the state Assembly. Today, Republicans have large majorities in both houses and Gov. Scott Walker is a Republican.
Sara Finger, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, said the hospitals’ lack of compliance with the law shows why it’s important for the state to enforce it.
“Compliance is everything,” Finger said. “It’s scary how many women might not be getting the compassionate care they need.”
Matt Sande, legislative director for Pro-Life Wisconsin, which fought the law, said some of the hospitals cited might oppose the law for religious reasons.
“If there are hospitals among these 22 that are noncompliant because they feel the law is a violation of their religious freedom, they ought to challenge it,” Sande said. “There are grounds to do so.”
Wisconsin Right to Life and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference were neutral on the bill leading to the law. When the state Legislature debated the issue in 2007, some Republicans proposed letting hospitals and individual medical professionals opt out for moral or religious reasons.