October 02, 2007

The recent decision by the Catholic bishops of Connecticut to allow Catholic hospitals in the state to administer the “morning after pill” to rape victims has, quite rightly, been criticized by pro-lifers.  The criticisms, however, have largely been on technical grounds.  The pill works, in part, by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg—in other words, it is an abortifacient.  A new state law prevents hospitals from taking the results of an ovulation test into account when deciding whether to administer the pill, and the bishops have declared that, in their judgment, a pregnancy test will suffice.

The technical criticism is right, as far as it goes: Before implantation of a fertilized egg, pregnancy tests have very low accuracy rates.  Therefore, the decision will likely result in chemical abortions being performed in Catholic hospitals.

The bishops rely on the uncertainty that conception may have occurred to justify their decision.  Since the pill also decreases sperm motility and prevents ovulation, they argue that it can be used, because “Catholic moral teaching is adamantly opposed to abortion, but not to emergency contraception for victims of rape.”

The entire debate, though, is based on assumptions that no one is willing to question: namely, that rape is, as we’re often told, the most horrific act that a woman can suffer; and that a pregnancy that results from a rape “continues the rape for another nine months.”

It’s certainly true that rape is a horrible crime, which is why the death penalty has often been attached to it in the past (though it rarely is today—so much for “women’s liberation”).  But, unlike murder, it is a crime from which women can heal—and, oddly enough, some rape victims who have become pregnant as a result have claimed that carrying the child to term has helped them in that process.  Aborting the child simply compounds the damage—to the woman, as well as to the innocent child.

The bishops have missed a teaching opportunity.  They could have explained that two wrongs do not make a right; and that, when bad things happen to good people, it doesn’t mean that they’ve been abandoned by God.  Think of the revelation of Mother Teresa’s 50-year-long “dark night of the soul.”  Unable to find solace in God, she continued on, because she knew that it was right—and she’s now been beatified and likely will be declared a saint, which is the Church’s way of saying that we know with certainty that she has been rewarded with eternal life in Heaven.  Did she suffer less during those 50 years than would a woman carrying a rapist’s child to term?

Instead, the bishops have not only implicated themselves in potential abortions; they have provided a justification for the expanded use of the “morning after pill.”  If conception can be legitimately frustrated through contraception because the woman did not consent to the act, doesn’t that same argument apply to the woman who engages in sex when depressed, or drunk, or with another man out of anger at the infidelity of her husband?  In all of those cases, a priest could determine that circumstances diminished her culpability because circumstances reduced her ability to provide full consent to the act.  Should she not then be given the same opportunity to prevent conception?

It’s a sad irony that this situation is emerging in Connecticut, from which arose Griswold v. Connecticut, the famous Supreme Court case legalizing contraception that paved the way for Roe v. Wade.  The difference is that, in Griswold, the Connecticut bishops were on the side of life.  Now, their actions may—however unintentionally—contribute to the Culture of Death.


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