The Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center(NCBC) has released a statement to help clarify the Connecticut Catholic Bishops' decision on the Connecticut legislation mandating contraceptive treatment for rape victims. Meanwhile, Human Life International has also weighed in on the deicison saying it contains "extremely egregious errors" and has asked the bishops to reverse their resolution.
The legislation has been controversial because the state's Catholic bishops have allowed the use of the "Plan B" contraceptive as required by the law. "Plan B" works by preventing ovulation, but may also render a woman's womb hostile to a fertilized egg if she has already ovulated.
The center's statement describes the situation as "a complex moral matter" which "does not lend itself to brief explanation." It notes that Catholic hospitals have always provided emergency contraception for the victims of sexual assault. However, to protect any newly conceived children from unintentionally being aborted, medical staff administered ovulation tests to confirm whether or not a embryo could be present.
An Unethical Law
The Connecticut law allows for a pregnancy test, which would detect a conception that had taken place before the sexual assault. The law does not allow for an ovulation test, which would indicate the possible presence of an embryo conceived immediately before, during, or after the assault.
The NCBC statement objected to the exclusion of the ovulation test on medical and ethical grounds. It argued the ovulation test established whether the treatment was necessary. When not administered, "the physician would have to administer a drug preventing ovulation even if ovulation had already occurred."
Debate About Plan B’s Effects
According to the NCBC, the ethical objections center on the possibility that medical treatment will prevent the embryo from implantation in the uterus. The statement declares "to intend and to do such a thing is immoral." However, the statement noted significant scientific debate over whether emergency contraception, also known as Plan B, actually has that effect in the womb.
In the absence of scientific consensus, the NCBC acknowledged the reasonableness of the Connecticut bishops' decision that "the administration of a contraceptive medication in the absence of an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act."
On the other side of the debate is Fr. Tom Euteneuer, the president of Human Life International (HLI). In a letter that he wrote to the Catholic Bishops of Connecticut, Fr. Tom asserts that Plan B’s ability to cause a chemical abortion is certain.
“The truth is that there is absolutely no doubt about how the Plan B pills work. Just ask the manufacturer, Barr Pharmaceuticals, whose product insert states: “This product works mainly by preventing ovulation (egg release). It may also prevent fertilization of a released egg (joining of sperm and egg) or attachment of a fertilized egg to the uterus (implantation).” (My italics.) It’s that third item that makes Plan B an abortion-causing drug. The same can be said for every chemical contraceptive,” he wrote.
He also cited Dr. Chris Kahlenborn whose research indicates that Plan B only works to halt ovulation half the time.
The president of HLI also took issue with the assertion that the Vatican has not spoken definitively on the Plan B issue by citing a document from the Pontifical Academy for Life from 2001. Since, as Fr. Euteneuer argues from the manufacturer’s description, Plan B can prevent an embryo from implanting, then it falls under the jurisdiction of the Academy’s teaching that, “from the ethical standpoint the same absolute unlawfulness of abortifacient procedures also applies to distributing, prescribing and taking the morning-after pill.”
Both Fr. Tom and the NCBC attacked the Connecticut legislation for its lack of a conscience clause protecting all parties involved.
The NCBC declared that "it is immoral to violate one’s conscience, including the corporate consciences of health care agencies, and the unwillingness of the state to allow an exemption of conscience makes the law unjust and onerous."
HLI’s president urged those who defend life to pray for the downfall of the culture of death and “to pray for the bishops, above all, who are usually the target of attack by the culture of death and are often surrounded by compromisers.”