Is “Emergency Contraception” Licit? The German Bishops Discuss in Light of Recent Events

Just in case you weren’t enjoying the whipsaw-like ride of the news cycle, this just in from Der Speigel,

The case of a young woman who was denied treatment by Catholic hospitals after she may have been raped has sparked a debate among German Catholics. At its heart is whether the Church should allow emergency contraceptive pills, or whether such drugs are equivalent to abortion.

The German Bishops’ Conference plans to re-evaluate its policy on emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after pill,” following an incident in Cologne in which two Catholic hospitals denied treatment to a possible rape victim.

A spokeswoman for the Cologne archdiocese said the issue would “certainly be on the agenda” at a regular meeting of the bishops’ conference in the western town of Trier in two weeks, and that “the bishops’ conference must in principle agree on a common line.”

Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne changed course on the issue in a statement released last week, saying he had consulted with medical professionals on the precise effects of emergency contraceptive pills. He said he had concluded that the most recent forms of those medications prevent ovulation and fertilization. They do not, he concluded, prevent the implantation of an already-fertilized egg, which he said would still constitute an abortion and therefore be forbidden by Catholic doctrine. It is a conclusion which appears to be backed up, though not conclusively, by recent medical studies.

“If a medication that hinders conception is used after a rape with the purpose of avoiding fertilization, then this is acceptable in my view,” Meisner said. An accompanying statement by his office reiterated that the Church still forbids artificial contraception among married couples.

Only two morning-after pills are available in Germany, marketed as “elleOne” and “PiDaNa.” Both can prevent ovulation and weaken sperm in order to prevent fertilization. Medical authorities in the United States and Europe have approved labels for morning-after pills that state the drug may also discourage implantation of the embryo in the uterus, though that has been disputed by recent medical studies.

Morning-after pills must also be distinguished from abortifacient agents like mifepristone, which induces miscarriage in the early months of pregnancy. Such drugs are expressly forbidden by the Catholic Church.

Read the whole story. It will be interesting to learn the results of these discussions.

UPDATE

USSCB: Letter In Response To NY Times Article Of June 6, 2012,”No Abortion Role Seen For Morning-After Pill”

More thinking on contraception at the USSCB website.

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