Doctors and people involved in pro-life work say that the German bishops’ decision to allow morning-after pills for rape victims raises strong concerns and that the drug in question can cause a chemical abortion.
“There is a real dangerous precedent that could be set here again because the news moves so quickly,” said Vicky Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, in a Feb. 22 interview with CNA.
“There is real danger in Europe, Canada, the U.S., Latin America and Africa and five years from now women will be asking themselves if that is perhaps the only child they could’ve had and lost,” she added at the Pontifical Academy for Life’s annual general assembly at the Vatican.
The German bishops decided Feb. 21 to allow Catholic hospitals to use the morning-after pill or other contraception in rape cases, provided that the medication acts as a contraceptive and not an abortifacient.
Their decision came after a 25-year-old woman claimed she was raped and was refused treatment at two Catholic hospitals in Cologne.
Cardinal Joachim Meisner issued an apology on Jan. 22, saying it was shameful for a Catholic hospital to refuse treatment to a rape victim.
The German bishops were already planning to meet as a group, so the topic was added to the agenda of their four-day gathering in Trier, Germany.
The bishops unanimously agreed to allow the morning-after pill in rape cases, provided that it is administered in a way that “has a preventive and not an abortive effect.”
“Medical and pharmaceutical methods which result in the death of an embryo still may not be used,” a Feb. 22 statement from the bishops said.
As part of their discussion, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the Commission for Doctrine and Faith of the German Bishops’ Conference, illustrated the moral and theological evaluation of using the morning-after pill “on the basis of scientific findings on the availability of new compounds with modified effect.”
However, some medical professionals question the assertion that the morning-after pill can function solely as a contraceptive.
“There is absolutely no such pill with a 100 percent guarantee that it will not cause an abortion,” said Catherine Vierling, a medical doctor who is active in the pro-life movement.
Doctor Simon Castellvi, president of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, told CNA Feb. 7 that “the morning-after pill works as an anti-implantation product in 70 percent of the cases where the woman is fertile.”
Thorn also says there is no morning-after pill that will not affect implantation.
“I do not believe there is one because all the research I have done on this shows that the missing piece is knowing when ovulation happened,” she remarked.
“I have grave concerns about this issue in Germany, and I’m very skeptical about this because there is so much we don’t know,” she added.
Thorn noted that the body “is so complex with so many other factors, and I think we’re in a very dangerous place when we assume we have this knowledge.”
Doctor John Haas, a bioethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center and a permanent member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, did not comment on the chemical actions of the pill but he did explain a way it could be used ethically.
He explained that it is possible to know whether the morning-after pill will cause an early chemical abortion by determining if a woman is ovulating.
“There are two ways in which (ovulation) can be determined, three ways really.
“You can take the medical record of her cycle and determine where she might be within it. But then there are more precise scientific tests that can be done, test that could be done using her blood or her urine. This will allow them to see whether or not certain hormones are in the blood or urine and that will indicate whether or not she has ovulated."