Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Morning After Pill" Not Opposed by WI Catholic Bishops

Legislation to force Catholic hospitals to issue the "morning after" pill (Plan B) to victims of rape will not be opposed by the Wisconsin Catholic Bishops.

The bishops are basing their decisions on an interpretation of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops document: Ethical and Religious Directives (E.R.D.) for Catholic Health Care Services which states at no. 36 with regard to a woman who has been raped: "If after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation the process by which spermatozoa in the ampullary portion of a uterine tube become capable of going through the acrosome reaction and fertilizing an oocyte." However, the document adds: "It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum." (see the document: http://www.usccb.org/bishops/directives.shtml )

This is also known as the "Peoria Protocol."

That position is controversial.

The only public Vatican statement on the morning after pill condemns its use outright. The Pontifical Academy for Life states that "the absolute unlawfulness of abortifacient procedures also applies to distributing, prescribing and taking the morning-after pill. All who, whether sharing the intention or not, directly co-operate with this procedure are also morally responsible for it." (see the full Vatican statement here:
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdli... )

The problem lies not so much in theology but in science. What the US Conference document is aiming at is preventing conception after rape, rather than abortion. However, pregnancy occurs not at implantation of the unborn child in the uterus, but at fertilization which can occur within minutes after intercourse. Further, normal pregnancy tests based on a hormone known as hcG is accurate only if a woman is at least one week pregnant by the time of the test, since the body's chemical changes resulting from pregnancy which are picked up by the devices must be at a detectable level. This takes at least five days rather than minutes or hours.

Should a woman have been impregnanted by the rape, a pregnancy test would likely not detect it within the first couple of days after the rape, thus taking the morning after pill in such a scenario would cause an abortion even though the pregnancy test had shown no pregnancy.

Dr. John Shea M.D., who has for some years specialized in researching and reporting on life issues, is the medical consultant to LifeSiteNews.com. He notes that since the administration of abortifacient drugs may place an innocent human life at stake, surety is required that the woman in question is not yet pregnant. That absolute certainty cannot be provided by science, he says. He compares the doubt about whether the woman is already pregnant to the classic example of the hunter's doubt about whether a movement behind a bush is caused by deer or a human being. "You can't shoot unless you're certain it's a deer," he says.

Famed Catholic moral theologian Msgr. William Smith, who teaches at St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, concurs. "It's wrong to say, you can use anything that has abortifacient properties. Emergency contraception is double talk ... it's what I call 'verbal engineering'. Catholic hospitals are not free to prescribe or provide anything with abortifacient properties without contradicting their witness."

It's not unusual for science and theology to be in conflict--a few hundred years ago, Aquinas speculated that the "quickening" of the fetus did not occur until the 4th month of pregnancy. Aquinas was not in possession of an MRI imager, either...

Looks like Abp. Dolan has a project on his table.

Update: Wiggy has a followup post here.

1 comment:

Al said...

Judie Brown of American Life League hits hard on the BS about a test for conception that allows the giving of the "morning after pill". In her book "Saving Those Damned Catholics" she points out the fact that there is no such test in existance that can do what they claim to allow them to issue the "morning after pill'. It is just a lot of double talk to allow them to do what they know they shouldn't do.