German Bishops: Emergency Contraception in Case of Rape is Licit if the Pill Doesn’t Induce Abortion UPDATED

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of Germany’s bishop’s conference gives a media statement before the German bishop’s annual meeting in Trier, February 18, 2013. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

As best as I can make out between two years of high school German and Google Translate, the bishops in Germany basically said that this decision was made in consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The German Bishops have decided that emergency contraception may be used by women seeking treatment in Catholic hospitals  in the case of rape. The Assembly reaffirms that women in Catholic hospitals, who are victims of rape, should be given all proper human, medical, psychological,  and pastoral assistance, as needed.  This may include the administration of a pill to prevent pregnancy, insofar as it has a contraceptive, and not an abortifacient, effect.

For the entire statement (in German), see item #8 (Moraltheologische Fragen im Zusammenhang von Vergewaltigung („Pille danach“)) on the Conference press release. Recall that the news that the German bishops were going to discuss use of emergency contraception was reported a few weeks ago.

Stephen Brown of Reuters has more, and thankfully with a better translation.

(Reuters) – The Roman Catholic Church in Germany said on Thursday it would permit certain types of “morning-after pill” for raped women, after two hospitals provoked an outcry for refusing to treat a rape victim.

The German Bishops’ Conference said church-run hospitals would now ensure proper medical, psychological and emotional care for rape victims – including administering pills that prevent pregnancy without inducing an abortion.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said a four-day meeting of German bishops in the western town of Trier had “confirmed that women who have been victims of rape will get the proper human, medical, psychological and pastoral care”.

“That can include medication with a ‘morning-after pill’ as long as this has a prophylactic and not an abortive effect,” he said in a statement. “Medical and pharmaceutical methods that induce the death of an embryo may still not be used.”

That means there is no change to the Catholic Church’s ban on the so-called abortion pill based on the drug mifepristone or RU-486, and marketed as Mifegyne or Mifeprex.

The Church remains firmly opposed to abortion and artificial birth control, but in Germany it will now differentiate between pills that prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg in the womb and pills that induce an abortion, in cases of rape.

The German church, which has already faced mass desertions over cases of sexual abuse of children by priests, had been expected to change its position on the morning-after pill after apologizing about an incident involving two hospitals in Cologne last month.

The critical German lay movement “Wir sind Kirche” (We are the Church) said bishops took the decision because they feared losing state subsidies for church hospitals. The Catholic Church runs 25 percent of German hospitals and half of those in North Rhine-Westphalia state, which includes Cologne, it said.

Cologne’s Cardinal Joachim Meisner, an ally of the outgoing German-born Pope Benedict, has already apologized for the church hospitals’ treatment of the woman. He said it “shames us deeply because it contradicts our Christian mission and our purpose.”

Read the rest. 

It will be interesting to hear how the USCCB  reacts to this decision, especially in light of the news that more women are using the “morning after” pill these days. Clearly the German Bishops stand against the use of the “morning after” pill in cases that are not a result of sexual assault. Clearly the German Bishops stand against the use of the “morning after” pill in cases that are not a result of sexual assault. Sorry NPR.

UPDATE:

From the National Catholic Bioethics Center: Getting It Right “The Morning-After.”

Some have argued that it may be immoral for Catholics to provide any contraceptive measures at all to a woman who has been raped. Such a view is incorrect, however, because a woman who has been sexually assaulted is clearly entitled to protect herself from the attacker’s sperm. The Church teaches that rape is not a unitive act that requires openness to procreation. It is rather an act of violence against another person, and the woman is allowed to take steps to prevent the possible fertilization of her own egg(s). It is permissible, then, for Catholic hospitals to provide their patients with morning-after pills if the following four conditions are met:

1. The woman is not already pregnant from prior, freely-chosen sexual activity.
2. The woman has been sexually assaulted.
3. The woman has not yet ovulated (i.e. has not released an egg from her ovary into the fallopian tube where it could be fertilized by the attacker’s sperm).
4. The morning-after pill can reasonably be expected to prevent her from ovulating.

When a woman arrives to an emergency room following a sexual assault, a simple urine test for leutinizing hormone (LH) can be used to gain information about whether she is ovulating. If it is determined that her LH levels have spiked and she is ovulating, the morning-after pill will not be able to block the egg’s release from her ovary. If it were to be administered under these circumstances, the morning-after pill might function to prevent the implantation of any newly conceived embryo(s), which would be the moral equivalent of an abortion. Under these conditions, therefore, the morning-after pill should not be administered.

Read the rest.

Deacon Greg Kandra: German bishops allow “morning after” pill in cases of rape.

  • DJ Hesselius

    Nice theory: but the EC, just like the regular old birth control pill, may act in an abortafacient way.

    • Frank Weathers

      Yes. It’s a highly nuanced subject in moral theology that is being explored here. I’m not sure that any current pill on the market fits this standard. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more soon.

  • rachel

    I wish it were clearer from the news article what exactly the German bishops announced. Is it a particular “brand” of emergency contraception (ec) they are permitting in cases of rape, or are they drawing the same line as the USCCB in the health directives on ec after rape, that any form of ec can only be dispensed if a woman is confirmed to have not yet ovulated?

    • Frank Weathers

      The AP report from Deacon Greg’s post quotes Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University as saying,

      “This new determination by the German bishops is in full continuity with church teaching, and specifies how best to implement new pharmaceutical technology.”

      I think it’s important to note that the steps outlined by the National Catholic Bioethics Center would probably be the likely protocol that might be followed by a hospital in cases of treating a victim of rape. Any other case of using the “morning after” pill would be illicit.

  • midwestlady

    Germany is post-Christian.

  • Mary McCrossan

    Pretty reasonable evidence to show high dose progesterone forestalls ovulation. It’s used to stabilize the endometrium (uterine lining) for women with infertility issues.
    Initially thought to block implantation based on studies from WHO that showed a much higher efficacy than occurs in reality.

  • pagansister

    Perhaps the US Catholic leaders will take note of this and follow suit.

  • http://mymusingsonfilm.wordpress.com/ Kelly Wilson

    Hello “pagansister”,

    This is from the Directives 36 of the Ethical and Religious Directives issued by the USCCB.

    “Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim
    of sexual assault … a female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault … ”

    To that end, the German Bishops aren’t doing anything that others haven’t already done.

    KW.

  • pagansister

    That’s encouraging. Thanks for the info.


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