Abortion advocates overwhelmed the Human Services Committee of the State Legislature on March 13 with a dizzying array of soft science and misrepresentations in their unrelenting drive to undermine religious liberty in Connecticut. They were joined by compassionate but poorly informed allies who gave apparent legitimacy to their attack on our first freedom – the right to practice one’s religious faith and apply its moral precepts.
The weapon of choice was a bill that would force Catholic hospitals to provide certain drugs to rape victims in cases where they could produce a chemical abortion by altering the endometrial lining of the womb so as to impede implantation of a fertilized ovum. That fertilized ovum is a tiny embryonic human being, one the Church will not harm and is duty bound to defend. Any direct attack upon its environment designed to prevent its survival is a very early chemical abortion.
The genesis of the debate is the so-called “morning after” emergency contraceptive, which is marketed under the trade name “Plan B.” It contains a single active steroid ingredient, levonorgestrel, a totally synthetic progestogen. When administered at various times in a woman’s menstrual cycle, it may prevent ovulation: that is the release of a female gamete or egg from the ovaries into the Fallopian tube. However, if ovulation occurs, Plan B may prevent a fertilized ovum from implanting in the uterine wall. This is well attested by the literature distributed by the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Plan B as well as by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and, surprisingly enough, by leading abortion advocacy groups. (See below.)
Make no mistake. There are powerful advocacy and pharmaceutical interests lobbying legislators all over this county with word games designed to hide the reality of abortion. The manufacturer of Plan B, the National Abortion Rights Action League of Connecticut, Planned Parenthood, The American Civil Liberties Union and other allied organizations and legislators are determined to mandate such chemical abortions in Connecticut’s Catholic hospitals. In order to groom public opinion to accept this violation of religious liberty, they have resorted to a clever but disingenuous approach of redefining words so as to rob them of their meaning. They assert that the definition of “abortion” is limited to disruption of a pregnancy established by implantation of an embryo in the womb. Likewise, “conception” is admitted only after implantation, but not at fertilization. Some medical associations have accepted these new definitions. Others have not. By these evasions, proponents of chemical or other means of preventing implantation of nascent human life hope to avoid the label of “abortion” and limit discussion to contraception. The strategy is to isolate the Church by playing to widespread support for contraception without confronting the deep societal rift over abortion.
But Catholic doctrine is not about word games or junk science. The Church teaches that the embryo, even before implantation, is a human being. That is why she is opposed to embryonic stem cell research, which kills a member of the human family, but supports adult stem cell and umbilical cord stem cell research, which does not. In February 2006, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the topic of “The Human Embryo in the Pre-implantation Phase” and reminded all that the Magisterium proclaims: “... the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from conception until its natural end. This moral judgment also applies to the origins of the life of an embryo even before it is implanted in the mother’s womb.”
That underlying reality is at the heart of the Church’s teaching. But that does not mean that the Church rejects Plan B entirely in the rape treatment scenario. In fact, Catholic hospitals have operated under a carefully drawn rape treatment protocol for over a year. It supports the provision of Plan B when its likely mode of operation is the suppression of ovulation, but prohibits it in the extremely rare case where it’s more likely action is to impede implantation of an embryo in the womb. By maintaining this critical distinction, confirmed by appropriate testing in the emergency room, the protocol is consistent with Catholic doctrine on abortion by refusing cooperation when it is impossible to reach a moral certainty that Plan B will not destroy embryonic life. On the other hand, when it permits Plan B at times when there is no reasonable anticipation of abortive action, and as a form of self-defense against the continuing effects of the rape, it does no harm to the values of true sexual intimacy safeguarded by the Church’s teaching on contraception. Catholic doctrine holds that spousal love is designed to be procreative and unitive and that these two aspects must not be intentionally severed. But unitive in this context does not mean the mere joining of body parts. It refers to the complete interpenetration of being marked by a nuptial embrace that leads a couple on a spiritual ascent reflecting the mutual and total outpouring of being exchanged between the persons of the Blessed Trinity.
Rape has none of those characteristics. It is an act of violence and violation that proceeds from a radical rejection of unitive love. The procreative potential of biology is not a final value for Catholic thought in those circumstances, and, in any event, it was never joined to a properly understood unitive significance. It follows that so long as there is no likelihood that innocent embryonic life will be harmed, Plan B is compassionate and morally sound intervention in rape treatment protocols.
The Connecticut protocol identifies the likely mode of Plan B operation by testing for the presence of leuteinizing hormone (LH), which, if positive, indicates that a woman has entered the LH surge of her cycle. Once a woman enters LH surge, ovulation is highly likely to occur, regardless of the administration of Plan B. LH surge is measured by a simple urine dip test. The onset of LH surge may be any-where from 12 to 24 hours prior to actual ovulation, and a positive LH test does not indicate how far into the LH surge a woman is. Nonetheless, what is clear is that a positive LH surge test negates the likelihood, previously existent, that Plan B will suppress ovulation, and its new principal mode of action is most likely that of impeding implantation. But even in that case, Connecticut Catholic hospitals will inform a victim about Plan B and its availability at other locations and will facilitate transfer of the patient to a secular hospital emergency room. Since there is a secular hospital emergency room within 10 minutes of every Catholic hospital in the State, it is evident that no compelling government interest supports the burden on religious freedom embedded in the pending legislation. In fact, whatever government interest may exist can be met by such transfers or by a mobile intervention team that can provide Plan B to a rape victim off-site of Catholic hospitals.
Those alternatives are critical because the Connecticut Restoration of Religious Liberties Act, Conn. Gen Stat. § 52- 571b, mandates that the State must satisfy those exacting standards before burdening the free exercise of religion, even if the Constitution would otherwise tolerate a burden imposed by neutral legislation of general applicability.
So what of the claim that Plan B does not interfere with implantation? At the hearings before the Human Services Committee, a shameless array of witnesses misrepresented the Connecticut Catholic Hospital protocol and Catholic teaching, shaded medical science and denied one of the likely chemical actions of Plan B. Witnesses asserted that Plan B is most needed when LH surge is detected because that is the time closest to ovulation. But they failed to tell the committee that once LH surge is detected, Plan B will almost certainly not inhibit ovulation and that the most likely action of Plan B at that point is the prevention of implantation – a chemical abortion in Catholic teaching.
An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association was claimed to show that Plan B does not have an anti-implantation effect. Proponents of mandatory Plan B actually claimed that the article eliminated the reason for the Church’s objection to Plan B. Upon careful review, that balloon has crashed. The “article” was actually a “commentary,” and as the name suggests, it was an opinion piece, not a scholarly work, and it reached some unwarranted conclusions. In fact, the commentary itself actually recommends that women taking Plan B be told that it may, in fact, prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum in the womb. Shockingly, the commentary floated the “counterintuitive” notion that Plan B may actually help ensure successful implantation – the last thing rape victims want and a suggestion that no one believes.
Here are the facts: Plan B likely operates to prevent implantation, at least once LH surge is detected. That claim is not only contained in the manufacturer’s own literature, but is asserted by the Federal Drug Administration and many proabortion advocacy groups. The shocking deception perpetrated by some proponents of the mandatory Plan B is driven by ideology. In their campaign to undermine civil liberties, they pretend that the “latest” and “best” science actually demonstrates that Plan B does not have an anti-implantation effect. That claim is false and many of them know it. It is merely one more step in a long agenda aimed at the religious liberty and moral values of the Catholic Church.
Below are a few – and only a few – of the innumerable sources supporting the anti-implantation effect of Plan B. In order to avoid any suggestion that these sources are tainted by “Catholic” loyalties or are otherwise “uninformed,” they have been selected from pro-choice and pro-Plan B advocacy sources.
The author is a deacon of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Newton, assigned to St. Ann Church in Danbury. His background is in bioethics, law and moral theology, in which he holds a master’s degree from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He has taught bioethics and morals at the college level and at the St. Cyril of Jerusalem Academy of the Diocese of Bridgeport. He is also a practicing attorney at law.
From the manufacturer at www.go2planb.com/ForConsumers/AboutPlanB/HowItWorks.aspx
Plan B works like a regular birth control pill. It prevents pregnancy mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary, and may also prevent the fertilization of an egg (the uniting of the sperm with the egg). Plan B may also work by preventing it from attaching to the uterus (womb).”
From NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) at www.prochoiceamerica.org/issues/birth_control/emergency-contraception/emergency-contraception.html
Emergency Contraception (EC), also known as the “morning-after” pill, is simply a concentrated dose of ordinary birth-control pills that can substantially reduce a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant when taken within days of unprotected sex. EC does not cause abortion; rather it prevents pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, fertilization, or implantation before a pregnancy occurs.”
From The Federal Food and Drug Administration at www.fda.gov/cder/drug/infopage/planB/planBQandA20060824.htm
Plan B works like a birth control pill to prevent pregnancy mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary. It is possible that Plan B may also work by preventing fertilization of an egg (the uniting of sperm with the egg) or by preventing attachment (implantation) to the uterus (womb), which usually occurs beginning 7 days after release of an egg from the ovary. Plan B will not do anything to a fertilized egg already attached to the uterus. The pregnancy will continue.”
From the Center for Reproductive Rights at www.reproductiverights.org/pub_fac_ecicpd.html
“Because emergency contraception is used at all stages of a woman’s menstrual cycle, its mode of action varies. After intercourse, emergency contraception may prevent pregnancy by delaying or inhibiting ovulation, inhibiting fertilization, or inhibiting implantation of the fertilized egg.”
From The Kaiser Family Foundation at www.kaiseredu.org/topics_im.asp?id=400&imID=1&parentID=72#1b
“Research suggests that Plan B prevents pregnancy by delaying or inhibiting ovulation or fertilization, or inhibiting a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.”
From Princeton University’s Emergency Contraception Information Web site at http://ec.princeton.edu/questions/echosp.html
“If you have been raped, however, a Catholic hospital might be able to provide emergency contraceptive pills to help you prevent pregnancy. Directive 36 seems to allow providing emergency contraception to ‘a female who has been raped to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault . . . if, after appropriate testing there is no indication she is pregnant.’ It does not say how to determine if conception has occurred and, since emergency contraception might sometimes prevent implantation of a fertilized egg (which happens after conception), Catholic hospitals still have to interpret the directives and decide if they can provide emergency contraceptive pills to a woman who has been raped.”
COMMENTARY: Understanding Plan B