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.


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.

  • enness

    I don’t think it would be that earth-shaking for us, the press sensationalize things as usual.

  • pagansister

    Hopefully they will “allow” the Catholic hospitals to RX the morning after pill—–a woman should never be forced to carry to term, especially if she was raped. Which is preferable—taking the chance that the rape will start a pregnancy which the woman would then perhaps want to abort—or prevent the possibility of pregnancy to begin with? Choose the pill!

    • Peter

      Why punish the child for the crime of a rapist? By facilitating murder, the Catholic hospitals are held responsible for the death of the child.

      • pagansister

        If no implantation takes place due to the pill—then there is “no child” . Note—implantation doesn’t take place with the pill. As to your comment about punishing “the child” for being started by rape? If you have never been raped, and fear or find the horrible process ended in a pregnancy, then you have NO right to comment. You would not have to live with looking in the face of a child (who might actually look like the rapist) started by rape, to everyday remind you of what happened. Should she carry to put the baby up for adoption, then that is 9 months out of her life to go thru a pregnancy —not always easy or safe physically—-for what? No, the morning after pill should be allowed for any woman who wants it, but especially for those that have survived a rape. No “child” has been hurt with the morning after pill. IMO, you probably think an abortion is worse, right? Then the pill is easier and much less complicated.

  • Bill S

    “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.”

    Even if they did, that is such a technicality to call that an abortion. To deny proper treatment to a rape victim is just plain evil.

  • pagansister

    “To deny proper treatment to a rape victim is just plain evil”. Yes, Bill S. Totally accurate and true statement.

  • Kelly Wilson

    Can I comment on one particular component of this development in Germany?

    Fundamentally, the issue is one of self-defense. The German Bishops are saying what the American Bishops have already said. Consider Directive 36 of the Ethical and Religious Directives (USCCB). There are important considerations surrounding the effectiveness of contraceptive medication, and particularly what post-fertilization effects such medication may have, however, a victim of sexual violence is entitled to medical treatment in a Catholic facility and can justifiably defend herself against the possibility of a conception resulting from her being assaulted. It’s not about contraception. It’s about self-defense.

    Here’s a brief reaction I have written: