Statement: Connecticut Bishops On Plan B and Catholic Hospitals
Released on the CCC website this morning (and issued to the general press yesterday):
Complete coverage of this story is available here.
The Catholic Bishops of Connecticut, joined by the leaders of the Catholic hospitals in the State, issue the following statement regarding the administration of Plan B in Catholic hospitals to victims of rape:
The four Catholic hospitals in the State of Connecticut remain committed to providing competent and compassionate care to victims of rape. In accordance with Catholic moral teaching, these hospitals provide emergency contraception after appropriate testing. Under the existing hospital protocols, this includes a pregnancy test and an ovulation test. Catholic moral teaching is adamantly opposed to abortion, but not to emergency contraception for victims of rape.
This past spring the Governor signed into a law “An Act Concerning Compassionate Care for Victims of Sexual Assault,” passed by the State Legislature. It does not allow medical professionals to take into account the results of the ovulation test. The Bishops and other Catholic health care leaders believe that this law is seriously flawed, but not sufficiently to bar compliance with it at the present time. We continue to believe this law should be changed.
Nonetheless, to administer Plan B pills in Catholic hospitals to victims of rape a pregnancy test to determine that the woman has not conceived is sufficient. An ovulation test will not be required. The administration of Plan B pills in this instance cannot be judged to be the commission of an abortion because of such 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. To administer Plan B pills without an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act.
Since the teaching authority of the Church has not definitively resolved this matter and since there is serious doubt about how Plan B pills work, the Catholic Bishops of Connecticut have stated that 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. If it becomes clear that Plan B pills would lead to an early chemical abortion in some instances, this matter would have to be reopened. [source.]
To summarize, this statement is problematic for the following reasons:
- The medical facts regarding the abortifacient effects of Plan B are not up for debate. If administered to a woman who is ovulating Plan B may cause an abortion. Plan B itself admits its abortifacient potential on its warning label and website.
- The Catholic Church teaches (c.f. DV #13) that contraceptives with abortifacient potential fall under the same moral category as abortion because, when acting abortifaciently, they cause the death of a human being. The United States Bishops have similarly ruled-out the use of abortifacient pills like Plan B when the women is ovulating (c.f. Ethical & Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, # 36).
- The document claims "To administer Plan B pills without an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act", but for the reasons already mentioned, since Plan B can act as an abortifacient in cases where the women has ovulated, it is at least gravely irresponsible to administer chemicals that could very well bring about the death of a human being.
Thus this statement of the CCC appears to contradict both Church teaching and USCCB directives. [update: in response to some reasonable criticism, I should clarify that I believe this statement certainly both a) takes a step back from the previous position of U.S. hospitals regarding the morality of dispensing Plan B to rape victims who have ovulated and b) charts a different course of action than the USCCB has previously suggested, in accordance with principles ennunciated by Church documents. To this extent, and no further, I believe the document is problematic and must therefore be either a) repealed or b) further explained.]
Moreover, this decision contradicts a long-held, widespread and fiercely-defended claim by American Catholic bishops that state laws must not force Catholic hospital staffs to administer abortifacients in situations where the woman may have in fact conceived a new human life.
The final line of this statement (which reads: "If it becomes clear that Plan B pills would lead to an early chemical abortion in some instances, this matter would have to be reopened.") seems to demand an immediate review of the Bishops' statement. The law in question will go into effect next Monday, October 1st.
Update: A commenter below has made what seems to be a reasonable claim that some recent scientific studies call into question the presumed abortifacient properties of Plan B, despite the literature produced by the company itself which describes an abortifacient mechanism as one method of preventing sustained pregnancy.
However, the statement of the CCC clearly does not take this research to definitively disprove the prior medical consensus. Indeed, the statement of the CCC operates under the principal that Plan B is to be administered in a situation of legislated ignorance as to whether there is an ovum present at all (since an ovulation test - prophibited by the new law - would provide this information). It is puzzling that Catholic hospitals would allow legislation to prevent medically-relevant knowledge from being obtained. Especially because Plan B poses the greatest threat to new human life when a woman is ovulating. One must also call into question the good faith of legislation that prohibits an ovulation test. Why prohibit it unless the lawmakers want to see Plan B proscribed in all cases? Why is the CCC still complaining if Plan B has no abortifacient potential?
Prudence would seem to dictate in a situation where human life is at stake that recent, disputed scientific research should not overrule the findings of prior investigations as well as the position of Plan B's manufacturer. Rushing a decision because of an impending legal compliance date (next Monday) compounds the likelihood of error.
[Note: Some statements made by the CCC's spokesman are not helping matters. Saying that the bishops had an "evolution of thinking" is poor wording. The bishops had an evolution of data if Plan B turns out to not be abortifacient. The thinking concerning the immorality of proscribing abortifacients has not undergone any evolution. It is still wrong.
Similarly, claiming that there are "many who are affiliated with the church that believe the ovulation test isn't necessary" is completely irrelevent if Plan B is not an abortifacient. This raises the question: if the new scientific findings are so definitive, why do we need so many other added reasons to accept the CCC's policy change?]
Update 2: LifeSiteNews has posted coverage here.
Since there is still much confusion on this topic, it might be helpful to restate some of my reservations:
- This statement by the CCC is a reversal of precedent. Previously, Catholic hospitals in the US have overwhelmingly followed a protocol that prohibited dispensing Plan B to rape victims who have ovulated. The CCC itself followed such a protocol, until this week.
- Up to this point, the scientific consensus which formed the basis of these protocols for Catholic hospitals said that Plan B could act as an abortifacient, in that it prevents the human embryo from implanting in the uterine wall as one of its mechanisms for avoiding sustained pregnancy and gestation.
- Given points one and two, new scientific claims that call into question the previous consensus do not sufficiently justify a change of course. In cases where human life is at stake, prudence dictates that one not choose a course of action that may harm newly-conceived human life.
- Clearly this statement is causing confusion among the faithful. The fact that this decision has taken so many Catholics by surprise in turn demands a response from Church leaders, if at the very least to avoid scandal among the faithful. Certainly the secular world is taking this decision as a retreat from Catholic principle and this too must be aggresively addressed.
- Furthermore, it is a disservice to the cause of building a Catholic culture and a culture of life when decisions are made under constrained circumstances and bear the stamp of hastiness. More explanation and clarity is required in this situation, because more than the isolated issue of rape protocols is at issue. This debate also touches upon a) the right of Catholic hospitals (and employees) to operate free from legal intrusion in moral matters. b) the relationship between scientific fact finding and subsequent Church guidelines. c) the important comprehensive witness the Church provides to the world on life issues.
- It is also probably useful to note that there seems to be an inherent contradiction in the CCC statement. Namely, if Plan B cannot act as an abortifacient, than it should not matter if the woman has ovulated. That said, why does the CCC continue to demand that the law be changed to allow an ovulation test? Either the statement is wrong to request the ovulation test be written into the law, or they are actually not confident that Plan B is non-abortifacient, and if they are not confident that Plan B is non-abortifacient, they should not be allowing it to be given to rape victims who may have ovulated.
- If this statement by the CCC is correct, and Plan B cannot act abortifaciently, then any Catholic hospitals in the US could proscribe Plan B to all rape victims. So, either the rest of Catholic hospitals can change their policy, or the CCC must revise its statement. Similarly, if Plan B may or may not cause abortion, the correct protocol for both the CCC and the US Bishops is to disallow its use in cases where the woman has ovulated. I am here invoking the principle that when human life is at stake, the prudent choice is to err on the side of life and not choose a course of action that may result in killing an innocent life.