Plan B, an issue previously discussed in this blog (“Sad State of the Constitution State”, April 24th—see “Archive”) is back in the news. Many of you posted comments about those media reports, so I’d like to offer a number of clarifications and some additional perspective.
Last spring, the Connecticut Bishops worked hard to defeat the so-called “Plan B” legislation. It’s not that the Church opposes administering Plan B to victims of rape; these women have suffered a gravely unjust assault. Last year, nearly 75 rape victims were treated in the four Connecticut Catholic hospitals; no one was denied Plan B as the result of the Catholic hospital protocols which required both a pregnancy test and an ovulation test prior to the administration of that drug.
What’s really at issue here is how much testing is appropriate to ensure that Plan B does not induce the chemical abortion of a fertilized ovum. There is uncertainty about how Plan B works. Its effect is to prevent fertilization of the ovum. Some believe, however, that in rare instances Plan B can render the lining of the uterus inhospitable to the fertilized ovum which must implant in it in order to survive and grow; many other experts dispute this. For their part, the Bishops of Connecticut felt it was best not only to administer the standard FDA-approved pregnancy test, but also an ovulation test. However, this course of action was only a prudential judgment, not a matter of settled Church teaching and practice. Other bishops and moral theologians hold that a pregnancy test alone suffices. Indeed, the Church does not teach that it is intrinsically evil to administer Plan B without first giving an ovulation test or that those who do so are committing an abortion.
Unfortunately, Connecticut Legislature decided last spring to settle the question of whether both tests are necessary, instead of letting the Church do so in her own way. The Governor signed into law a measure that forbids health care professionals from using the results of an ovulation test in treating a rape victim. We bishops, as well as health care professionals, continue to believe this law is seriously flawed and should be changed. You should also know that we carefully explored with very competent experts the possibility of challenging the law. Unfortunately, such a challenge would most likely not succeed. Failure of the hospitals to comply would put them and their staffs at risk.
In the course of this discussion, every possible option was discussed at length with medical-moral experts faithful to the Church’s teaching, with legal experts especially in the area of constitutional law, and with hospital personnel. “Reluctant compliance” emerged as the only viable option. In permitting Catholic hospitals to comply with this law, neither our teaching nor our principles have changed. We have only altered the prudential judgment we previously made; this was done for the good of our Catholic hospitals and those they serve.
At the same time, we remain open to new developments in medical science which hopefully will bring greater clarity to this matter. Above all, we continue to pray for the healing of those who are victims of sexual assault.