Fr. Fehlner speaks out on Plan B ... and takes it an extra step
My only response to this valid point is that currently there is no way to definitively prove that Plan B never acts abortifaciently.
In what is likely the most significant contribution to date in the debate over the use of the so-called "emergency contraception" pills at Catholic hospitals, renowned theologian Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner has written on the subject. The Doctor of Sacred Theology who has been teaching theology in Franciscan universities and seminaries in the US and Italy for forty years, has questioned the basis on which the whole issue is based - namely whether it is permitted for Catholics to administer Plan B even if it acted as a contraceptive rather than causing abortions.
Fr. Fehlner, who was the North American Superior for the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in the United States from 1996 to 2002, dismissed outright the use of Plan B at Catholic hospitals where there is any doubt as to it possibility of causing an abortion. "The fact is, if we have any doubt about whether a given action would directly risk someone's life, entail a violation of justice or threaten the salvation of a soul, we may not act on the basis of a scientific probability," he writes. "That means even if the pill in Plan B is only 'dubiously' abortive, we simply may not use it at all."
The same point in the debate was made by the Catholic Medical Association and by pro-life groups which have been involved in the debate. However, Catholic bioethicists working for hospitals have advised bishops that it is good enough to have "moral certainty" rather than absolute certainty that the pills will not cause an abortion.
As I read the current medical findings, the "doubt" of a person proscribing Plan B in cases of rape treatment amounts to something like this:
"I know there were reports many years ago which claim that this treatment could possibly harm a human life. However, recent medical evidence seems to deny these earlier claims."The prudential question is then whether or not this represents sufficient doubt to make it morally imperative that one choose against treatment. The recently-passed Connecticut Legislation deprives individuals (both doctors and patients) the freedom to make this prudential decision.
Fr. Fehlner, however, takes his argument against Plan B one step further:
This is a more serious claim. And I think if Plan B stands or falls, it won't stand or fall on this particular issue.
However, beyond the question of the abortifacient effects of the pills, Fr. Fehlner - a familiar name to those who watch EWTN, points out that the Church teaches that contraception is intrinsically evil and thus is not permissible even in cases of rape."
Prevention of procreation is intrinsically evil prior to and independently of any good end which might be achieved thereby, such as avoiding further violence at the hands of a rapist, explains Fr. Fehlner. "The woman may certainly resist and should resist to the limit permitted by divine law any sexual assault. But she may not do this by using a means which is intrinsically evil, in this case considering the conception of a child an act of violence justifying the use of contraception."
The stance of Fr. Fehlner calls into question not only the decision of the Connecticut Bishops, but also that of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services put out by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The document permits contraception in cases of rape. It says specifically that in cases of women who have 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, or fertilization."
Nonetheless, Fr. Fehlner is standing on firm ground since several Popes have also taught that contraception is "intrinsically evil" and thus impermissible regardless of circumstances.
Let me explain: while Fr. Fehlner is correct in saying that contraception is "intrinsically evil" and hence never to be done, what is in fact "intrinsically evil" about contraception is primarily that it destroys the connection between the unitive and procreative dimensions of marital intercourse, as is taught in Humanae Vitae #12.
However, in cases of rape, there is no unitive dimension for contraception to separate from the procreative. Indeed, rape is a wilful and violent perversion of what should be a unitive act. Part of its horror is that it is so clearly a violation and a "taking" of something which should be freely given and sacramentally confirmed.
Therefore, individual Church conferences and directives have taught that a victim of rape may take non-abortifacient contraceptives to prevent the further violence of the attacker's sperm upon her body (in this case, ovum). A primary example of this teaching is present in #36 of the USCCB's ERDs.