A victim of a violent assault arrives in an emergency room. Once the patient's condition is assessed, it is determined that the patient has, on file with the hospital, an order called an "advance directive" - instructions by the patient on what measures the hospital should take to prolong the patient's life in the event of a catastrophic illness or injury.Most Americans agree that all of us deserve the opportunity to make decisions, within the bounds of the law, without interference from meddling politicians or hospital administrators.

Now imagine that patient as a woman who has been raped. By law, the hospital has to honor her wishes on how she would wish to die. But what about how she may wish to live? Should that same hospital be permitted to meddle in her personal and moral life and withhold from her the means by which she could prevent the pregnancy that might result from her assault?

Last week, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved new regulations that would allow health care facilities with religious affiliations or moral objections to claim an exemption from an otherwise-laudable new rule that requires hospitals to inform rape victims of their right to emergency contraception, and to provide the contraceptive pills to the raped woman if she wants them. The new rule was handed down just as legislators were scheduled to take up a bill that would have required Pennsylvania hospitals and health care facilities essentially to offer the same, but without a so-called "conscience clause."

With the new rule, state regulators have apparently appeased opponents to the proposed legislation who want to allow facilities to withhold birth control - even from rape victims - based on theological or moral grounds.

Regulators have tried to mollify advocates for the rights of rape victims by requiring health care facilities that claim a "conscience" objection from the contraception rule to provide transportation for rape victims to facilities where emergency contraception is dispensed.

We know we're not alone in our understanding as American citizens that each of us, as individuals, has a right to make important life decisions, within the bounds of the law, according to the dictates of our own consciences. Indeed, we at the Women Donors Network, together with Communications Consortium Media Center, recently conducted research among voters nationwide, surveying attitudes on important life decisions. An overwhelming majority - 83 percent - told researchers that they agreed with this statement: "We need to respect people's ability to make their own life decisions and not impose our values and views upon them." Eight in 10 voters - 81 percent - agreed that they "may have on position on abortion, another on birth control and still a third on end-of-life decisions" and that "sometimes we must just agree to disagree."

Pennsylvania to ensure that the full range of health care is available toall women who come through the emergency room doors for treatment after rape - without any religious exemptions.

By Wendy Wolf and Cathy Raphael

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