Recent media reports indicate Sarah Palin approved of charging sexual assault victims for rape kits while she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, until Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles signed a bill in 2000 granting funds for victims services – but few reports reveal the law calls for taxpayers to foot the bill for “emergency contraception” services.
According to a 2000 report in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Alaska state troopers and police departments routinely paid for rape kits, materials for gathering and preserving physical evidence of sexual assault, costing between $300 and $1,200 each.
“(But) the Wasilla police department does charge the victims of sexual assault for the tests,” the Frontiersman reported, although it did not reference a specific case.
In May 2000, the Alaska legislature enacted a law that would provide rape victims with the tests, free of charge – along with testing for sexually transmitted disease and access to emergency contraception.
When then-Gov. Knowles signed the law, he said, “We would never bill the victim of a burglary for the cost of gathering evidence, nor should we bill rape victims just because the crime scene happens to be their bodies.”
However, Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon openly disagreed with the measure, saying additional costs would be passed onto citizens.
“In the past we’ve charged the cost of exams to the victim’s insurance company when possible,” Fannon said. “I just don’t want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer.”
He said requiring the police department to pay for rape kits, including sexually transmitted disease testing and emergency contraception, would cost $5,000 to $14,000 a year. Fannon said he would like to see the courts force criminals to pay restitution to rape victims – rather than passing the charge onto taxpayers.
The Alaska law states:
Sec. 18.68.040. Costs of examination and certain medical care to be borne by law enforcement agency. A law enforcement agency or other authority that is investigating a sexual assault that is alleged or suspected to have occurred within its jurisdiction is responsible for the costs of testing for sexually transmitted diseases, emergency contraception, and examination of the victim necessary for
(1) collecting evidence using the sexual assault examination kit under AS 18.68.010 or otherwise; or
(2) determining whether a sexual assault has occurred.
Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services website advocates use of emergency contraception within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse to reduce the risk of pregnancy by 75 percent or more. Two types of emergency contraceptive medication are commonly used:
1. The first consists of ordinary oral contraceptive pills containing estrogen and progestin (combined ECPs). One brand in this category called “Preven” is specifically packaged and labeled for emergency use.
2. The second ECP type contains only progestin and is marketed under the brand name Plan B.
Palin, a mother of five children, has a pro-life voting record and has not indicated support for the morning-after pill. She is a member of the anti-abortion group Feminists for Life. The organization has warned women against “blindly accepting” morning after pills as just another artificial contraceptive method. It claims Planned Parenthood and other proponents push the medication as a way to prevent pregnancy.
“Although these supporters call morning-after pills ’emergency contraception,’ the term is a misnomer, as the pills actually act as an abortifacient in many cases by preventing the implantation of an already-fertilized human embryo,” a 1999 Feminists for Life newsletter stated.
Eight years after the law was passed, Sen. John McCain selected Sarah Palin for his vice presidential running mate. Now, media outlets and blogs are revisiting the Frontiersman report, alleging Palin approved of a city policy forcing victims to pay for rape examinations. Former Gov. Knowles is also questioning Palin’s commitment to women’s issues and support of crime victims.
A sponsor of the law, Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, told USA Today last week, “In retrospect, I would have asked the female working-mother mayor of that town why her police chief was against this.”
The Palin campaign has said little about the rape-kit controversy. However, spokeswoman Maria Comella said the governor never supported a policy to make victims foot the bill.
Palin “does not believe, nor has she ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test,” Comella said. “Gov. Palin’s position could not be more clear. To suggest otherwise is a deliberate misrepresentation of her commitment to supporting victims and bringing violent criminals to justice.”