The USCCB's Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs)certainly reiterate prohibitions on abortion/abortifacients, contraceptives, and direct sterilization. Actual practice in at least some Catholic hospitals, however, suggests failure to appreciate that our Church's medical ethics constitute a clarion call for the authentic health care of our fellow human beings. Ann Carey's excellent articles on Catholic hospitals for Our Sunday Visitor, Dr. Sandra S. Hapenney's Appeal to Conscience Clauses in the Face of Divergent Practices among Catholic Hospitals, Professor Leonard J. Nelson's Diagnosis Critical: The Urgent Threats Confronting Catholic Healthcare, and the video documentary 28 Days on the Pill suggest that the provision of abortifacients/contraceptives and/or direct sterilizations is commonplace at some Catholic hospitals and/or their campuses. These are uncomfortable realities and hypocrisies from which many are inclined to squirm away. How could our Catholic hospitals possibly be involved in such?
Whether it's called the "Morning After Pill," "Emergency Contraception," "Plan B," or "Ella," the Vatican has faithfully followed God and made clear that so-called emergency "contraception" - a choice against life - is to be condemned. However, the Catholic Health Association (CHA, CHAUSA), the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), and the USCCB maintain that there is a legitimate protocol for Catholic hospitals to employ so-called emergency "contraception" in treating those who identify themselves as victims of rape (They would certainly acknowledge that no such protocol is found in the Vatican's Charter for Health Care Workers, Statement on the So-Called ‘Morning After Pill’, or Dignitas Personae, or in Pope Benedict XVI's address to the International Congress of Catholic Pharmacists.). Because of the potential for inadvertent abortions, it must be noted that the Catholic Medical Association (2003) passed "A Resolution in favor of prohibiting all 'emergency contraception' in Catholic Hospitals."
In September 2007, many had to be taken aback by the "Statement by Connecticut Bishops Regarding Plan B" from Archbishop Henry Mansell, Bishop Paul Chomnycki, Bishop Michael Cote, and [then] Bishop William Lori, which approved the use of Plan B in Catholic hospitals for those identifying themselves as rape victims, after provision of a pregnancy test and without requiring an ovulation test. Shortly thereafter, Father Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D. commented that even the FDA and Plan B's manufacturer acknowledged its abortifacient potential and maintained that a pregnancy test would be insufficient to ensure against an inadvertent abortion. "Choosing to act in a way as to possibly cause the death of another human is not generally a good moral choice [sic]. When we have uncertainty about the presence of a human in the bushes during a hunting trip, for example, we ought not shoot into the bushes."
In §23 of the Vatican's September 2008 Dignitas Personae, distinctions are made between "interceptive" methods which interfere with an embryo before implantation and "contragestative" methods which interfere with an embryo after implantation, while making abundantly clear that both are illicit. Though Dignitas Personae did NOT offer guidelines for the supposed "moral" use of potential interceptives or contragestatives, [then] Bishop William Lori stated: "I don't think the document explicitly addresses the rape protocols, nor does it specifically address Plan B....It doesn't settle that question." In Talking Points Developed by CHA Ethics Staff on Dignitas Personae, the CHAUSA moved quickly to dismiss any notion that an update was needed to the ERD(s). Yet according to Father Robert Gahl of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, "I don’t see how one can read Dignitas Personae in such a way that administrating Plan B (or other morning-after pill or emergency contraception) can be justified."
In September 2010, Judie Brown of the American Life League and the Pontifical Academy for Life spoke with incredible bluntness: "there is all manner of dodging Catholic teaching at even the most prestigious levels. The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC)...published an article by Marie Hilliard, Ph.D., JCL, RN in which she...fails to point out that, because any such pill may abort a child, none should be used." In that article, Hilliard confirmed that the Vatican had NEVER spoken on so-called rape protocols but used this lack of explicitness to justify their existence: "The use of Plan B or any other 'morning after pill' for the purpose of avoiding conception following consensual sex is contraceptive in nature and is rejected by the Church. Many Catholics are surprised to discover that sexual assault is another matter. The issue of sexual assault is not addressed in the new bioethical document, Dignitas Personae, so sound moral reasoning has to be used to determine which protocol is morally acceptable for the administration of emergency contraceptive drugs."
I find Hilliard's argument unconvincing. It strikes me as akin to claiming that, since the Vatican never explicitly stated that people under 5' 2" merit absolute absolute respect, we may currently disregard their human dignity. Yet, just as our absolute need to honor the human dignity of people under 5'2" is inherent in the natural law and everything that the Church teaches, the prohibition of so-called emergency "contraception" in all situations seems clear in Dignitas Personae. Where does it possibly support Hilliard's claim that its teaching is just limited to those engaged in consensual sex? To the contrary, it states: "the use of means of interception and contragestation fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral. Furthermore, when there is certainty that an abortion has resulted, there are serious penalties in canon law."
In my opinion, Archbishop Lori's history makes him an odd match to be the USCCB's point person in the fight against the draconian HHS mandates. He seems to be in a particularly awkward position to scream from the rooftops that the poisons of abortifacients and contraceptives are absolutely BAD medicine - the elephant in the room, flip-side to our arguments against assaults against religious liberty. Yet, our Creator certainly likes that earthen vessels notion, doesn't He?
I hope that Archbishop Lori and the USCCB take note that, when we do not shy away from the destructiveness of abortifacients/contraceptives, our arguments and witness can be enormously more effective. This was recently well illustrated by a concise, pointed response by OBGYN Donna Harrison, MD to a misleading article:
- The recent New York Times article by Pam Belluck , asserting that so-called abortifacient drugs may not be abortive at all, is a wonderful example of convolution of facts to obscure reality....In point of fact, any drug which can act to prevent pregnancy after a woman has ovulated must have some post-fertilization effect....And, because some physicians and scientists stubbornly adhere to the principles of Hippocratic medicine, and refuse to give a drug which will kill one of their patients (the human embryo), and may harm the other (the mother) the controversy will not go away."