(WOMENSENEWS)–Only one in three hospital emergency rooms regularly offer emergency contraception to women rape victims, according to a survey of 125 Pennsylvania hospitals presented this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Emergency contraception, sometimes called the morning-after pill, is a high dose of ordinary birth control pills taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The pills work by disrupting fertilization or by preventing a fertilized embryo from implanting in a woman’s uterus. The method is about 75 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.

In some cases, patients are denied emergency contraception because of the religious beliefs of hospital boards or individual doctors.

While 38 percent of the surveyed non-Catholic hospitals routinely offered counseling and emergency contraception, only 6 percent of Catholic hospitals did so. In about 50 percent of surveyed hospitals, the decision of whether to offer emergency contraception was left to individual doctors to make based on their knowledge of the treatment, medical opinions and religious beliefs.

About 5 percent of women who are raped in the United States become pregnant, which results in an estimated 25,000 unintended pregnancies each year, according to study author Dr. Ashlesha Patel, an obstetrician/gynecologist at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

For more information:

The Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project:

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals:

Emergency Contraception Hotline and Web Site: