Views, Opinions and Insight from The Catholic Transcript's Columnists and Guests.
The Plan B Issue
Msgr. David Q. Liptak
Q. Could you please explain the theological rationale for the Church’s reported “evolving” position regarding Plan B in rape protocols at Catholic hos-pitals? How can the Church ever say that contraception (recourse to “emergency contraception,” according to news stories) might be permissible?
A. Mandated use of Plan B – “emergency contraception” – by law in rape protocols at Catholic hospitals – raises the key issue of abortion, which is intrinsically evil, hence can never be justified.
Moreover, the phrase “emergency contraception,” which is widely used legally and scientifically, is not what is theologically meant by the term “contraception.” “Contraception” in classical usage refers to “the impeding of a new human life that could begin through a freely chosen genital act.” (Bioethics and the Gift of Life, William E. May, OSV 2000)
On the other hand, “emergency contraception” in the secular idiom refers to what Catholic theology calls prevention of conception because of rape, which is unjust, violent aggression. A woman has every right to protect herself from “the rapist’s sperm and the further violation to her bodily and personal integrity.” (ibid., p. 140)
What if, however, a new human life has been conceived as a result of the rape? Here a new law (a rather grotesque law) requires Catholic hospitals to deal with “Plan B” in rape protocols. Is so-called “Plan B” an abortifacient? In other words, will it terminate newly conceived human life?
The answer at this time is that “the administration of Plan B pills in this instance cannot be judged to be the commission of an abortion because of … doubt about how Plan B pills and similar drugs work and because of the current impossibility of knowing from the ovulation test whether a new life is present,” as the Catholic Bishops of Connecticut affirmed in their recent statement. (Transcript Oct. 2007)
In Bioethics, a clear picture of what is scientifically happening is required before an ethical assessment can be rendered.
Hence, if it is demonstrated with certainty that the drug (drugs) used in Plan B effects an abortion, its (their) use cannot be morally justified. Meanwhile, in the face of a law (a seriously flawed law, for the reasons cited here alone), “Catholic Hospitals in the State may follow protocols that do not require an ovulation test in the treatment of victims of rape. A pregnancy test approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration suffices…” (Statement of Catholic Bishops of Connecticut, Oct. 2007.)
It goes without saying that Catholic hospitals in the State will continue to administer a pregnancy test to determine if a woman has conceived, and “if the pregnancy test is positive, contraceptive medicine will not be administered.” (ibid.)
In any case, there is no “evolving” position here in the moral arena, either as regards abortion or contraception. Abortion is intrinsically immoral, and contraception, as defined in Catholic theology (see above) is intrinsically immoral.
A closely related problem about legislating Plan B is that of religious freedom, and whether Catholics should be penalized by laws which adversely prejudice their freedom to practise their faith or which necessitate “reluctant compliance.”
Besides, this kind of legislative thinking (e.g., legislating ethics) is especially alien to Connecticut, which was founded on the principle of religious freedom. The precedent is ominous.
Catholics (Christians, all believers) should ask themselves whether this is the kind of a State that they want; namely, a State whose legislation can grossly intrude into the religious arena, attempting to legislate so-called “ethics” by legislative fiats. In a representative democracy, obvious legal remedies are not lacking.