What American Papist isn’t telling you about Plan B

What American Papist isn’t telling you about Plan B September 29, 2007

Perusing through the Catholic blogs in search of commentary on the unsettling news that the Connecticut Catholic Conference has conceded to the inevitable distribution of the emergency contraceptive drug, Plan B, to victims of sexual assault, I came across a comprehensive post at American Papist. Please read over his entire post.

The American Papist, also known as Thomas N. Peters, has been following the story at a distance and has already formed a judgment: “Thus this statement of the CCC appears to contradict both Church teaching and USCCB directives.” While it may appear to Thomas that this statement “contradicts” Church teaching on abortion and contraception, the indisputable fact is that there is no contradiction whatsoever. Thomas’ is a serious charge for any one to make, and one ought not to jump to such conclusions without a thorough knowledge of all the relevant facts.

Thomas bases his erroneous and hasty judgment on three points. I provide them in full:

  • The medical facts regarding the abortifacient effects of Plan B are not up for debate. If administered to a woman who is ovulating Plan B may cause an abortion. Plan B itself admits its abortifacient potential on its warning label and website.
  • The Catholic Church teaches (c.f. DV #13) that contraceptives with abortifacient potential fall under the same moral category as abortion because, when acting abortifaciently, they cause the death of a human being. The United States Bishops have similarly ruled-out the use of abortifacient pills like Plan B when the women is ovulating (c.f. Ethical & Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, # 36).
  • The document claims “To administer Plan B pills without an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act”, but for the reasons already mentioned, since Plan B can act as an abortifacient in cases where the women has ovulated, it is at least gravely irresponsible to administer chemicals that could very well bring about the death of a human being.

Let me address each of Thomas’ points here:

1. Thomas is correct to note that Plan B may cause a woman’s body to abort a human life. He is also correct to point out that Plan B’s warning label indicates as much, though in different words. The Plan B label reads: “It may also prevent fertilization of a released egg (joining of sperm and egg) and or attachment of a fertilized egg to the uterus (implantation).” The Plan B website tells us: Plan B® may also work by preventing it from attaching to the uterus (womb). It is important to know that Plan B® will not affect a fertilized egg already attached to the uterus; it will not affect an existing pregnancy.” What can be concluded from these warnings is that Plan B may potentially and indirectly cause the woman’s body to abort a human life if it prevents a fertilized egg to attach to the uterus. All we have is a possibility stated here, not an ability. As of yet, there is no scientific consensus to verify whether Plan B can indirectly cause an abortion.

2. Thomas’ assertion that certain types of contraceptives fall under “the same moral category as abortion” is categorically false and unsupported by Catholic moral doctrine. Abortion is always and in every case intrinsically evil and qualifies as nothing less than deliberate and intentional murder. Contraception, even that which has “abortifacient potential,” is of a different moral category. This is not to minimize the gravity of the sin of contraception, but it does takes into account the motive, intention and knowledge of those moral subjects who have recourse to contraceptives. These are necessary pieces in the evaluation of the moral rectitude of a given act. Thomas even refers us to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which actually contradicts Thomas’ assertions:

Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment “You shall not kill”.

The close connection which exists, in mentality, between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious. It is being demonstrated in an alarming way by the development of chemical products, intrauterine devices and vaccines which, distributed with the same ease as contraceptives, really act as abortifacients in the very early stages of the development of the life of the new human being. (Evangelium vitae, no. 13)

The document of the USCCB to which Thomas refers states that emergency conception may be used in the event of sexual assault provided the drug does not have as its purpose or direct effect the aborting of a fertilized ovum:

A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum. (no. 36)

Thomas’ two sources, which supposedly serve as the bedrock for his judgment, do nothing to support his claim.

3. Thomas pulls a fast one here on his readers, misrepresenting the facts. Thomas key premise is “Plan B can act as an abortifacient,” and yet that is not what the manufacturers of Plan B or the scientific community have told us. There is a gross difference between saying that something can cause X and that something may cause X. To say that it can indicates that something possesses the power and the ability to bring about X. To say that it may suggests merely that there is an uncertainty as to whether something possesses the power and the ability to bring about X. Now, on the surface this may appear to be a tedious, hair-splitting semantic game, but the distinction between can and may is extremely important in the discussion of causality in both ethical and scientific literature. Thomas’ alteration of one word, however unintentional it may be, carries significant ramifications.

And so we can conclude without a shadow of a doubt that Thomas’ judgment is false. The bishops have not contradicted Church teaching, nor do we have any grounds to conclude that they are “wrong,” as Thomas suggests. Shame on him for issuing such a verdict on bishops of the Church.

Unlike Thomas, I think it is clear that this case is not so neat and perspicuous that we can conclusively decipher what the right course of action for the bishops would be. What makes this matter so confused and turbid are the following points:

  • The Catholic Church teaches that the deliberate use of artificial contraception within the context of conjugal relations for the express purpose of preventing conception is a grave sin
  • The Church teaches that it is permissible for a woman who is the victim of sexual assault to utilize emergency contraception that does not have as its purpose or direct effect the aborting of a human life
  • The Catholic Church has not pronounced on the licitness of the use of emergency contraception that has not been determined to be an abortifacient in the event of sexual assault

In light of the complexity of this case, the question that should be asked is not whether the Connecticut Catholic Conference contradicted Church tradition (it did not), but whether it acted prudently and in full knowledge in the light of the might of the law and the expediency of scientific findings. I do not see anything problematic from a strictly doctrinal standpoint. The problem as I see it is compounded by additional moral questions: Because we do not yet know scientifically whether or not Plan B is an abortifacient when taken after conception has occurred, should the drug be administered in the interim? If it turns out that Plan B can be scientifically shown to cause abortion, then would not the culpability of this evil effect be diminished due to ignorance? If it turns out that Plan B can be scientifically shown to not cause abortion, then wouldn’t the bishops’ decision be a positive provision that provided a good service to women who were sexually assaulted? In other words, the real question is prudence–not courage–where the bishops must determine whether to approve a medical measure that provides a good for women despite the fact that there is no conclusive evidence that Plan B either can or cannot cause abortion.

Jimmy Akin, to my surprise, provides a very balanced comment on what may have been the Connecticut Catholic Conference’s process of decision. Aside from the closing comment that draws an analogy between hunting and medical procedure for victims of rape, Akin’s post is worth a read.

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  • There is not much for me to add. I think it is important to note that the bishops appear to be invoking the Principle of Tolerance by specifically noting that we do not have experencial evidence to support that Plan B is choosing to abort a child and therefore the act isn’t intrinsically evil. This is similar to Levada’s compromise in San Fransisco where he allowed benefits to any additional household member, which removed his having to consent to homosexual relationships. When Cardinal Ratzinger wrote on immunizations, he specifically noted that intrinscally evil act could not be tolerated under the Principle of Toleration. The implication of this is 1) if experencial evidence materializes other action may be taken and 2) Catholics are still bound to act with prudence if they are in this situation meaning that the rape victim should request testing to determine if ovulation is occuring.

    In regards to Mr. Akin’s analysis in defense of the bishops, I think he is not evaluating the acts teleologically. The rape victim in no way is choosing to perform a sexual act. Every action undertaken by the victim is to try and avert the harm done to her. Unforunately his actual position appears to only consider the materiality of the act absent the teleology. It appears he views the bishops making a circumstancial distinction, the rapist and victim not being wed, thereby avoiding the condemnation of Humana Vitae. Further it appears, that we would disagree with making a circumstancial distinction if he were not in a position of attempting to defend the actions of the bishops. I would agree that a circumstancial distinction cannot be maintained, but I would also argue that we are describing completely different acts due to teleology.

  • To respond briefly to these charges:

    1) My understanding is that there is a scientific consensus regarding the abortifacient properties of Plan B. It acts against the ability of the newly-conceived embryo to attach to the uterine wall. Much like the “morning-after” pill. Which was explicitly condemned by the Pontifical Academy for Life: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdlife/documents/rc_pa_acdlife_doc_20001031_pillola-giorno-dopo_en.html
    The vast majority (if not all) of Catholic hospitals do not allow Plan B to be administered to rape victims who have ovulated. So clearly there is a problem. And I don’t see you providing any data to conclude otherwise.
    2) Do me the courtesy of quoting me in full and not misrepresenting me, what I actually said here was “The CC teaches … that contraceptives with abortifacient potential fall under the same moral category as abortion because, when acting abortifaciently, they cause the death of a human being.” WHEN ACTING ABORTIFACIENTLY they BY DEFINITION fall under the category of ABORTION. I even cite DV 13 which says the same thing. How hard is that to see? DV is pointing to the fact that contraceptives that with abortifacient capabilities quickly move into the moral realm of abortion. In Moral Theology, the degree of culpability of the acting parties is a separate issue. You see, sometimes I presume a basic understanding of moral categories on the part of my readers.
    3) Furthermore, my quotation from the USCCB document is completely relevant. “interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum”  this is exactly what Plan B is thought to do, and its manufacturers admit as much. How does this not support my claim?
    4) When I use the verb “can” I am referring to the presumed mechanisms by which Plan B prevents sustained pregnancy, the same mechanism that has in the past ruled-out its use by Catholic hospitals in cases of rape treatment where the woman has ovulated. How the semantic difference between “can” and “may” leads necessarily to me being wrong “beyond a shadow of a doubt” is a logical leap I’m unable to visualize.
    5) If you read the entirety of my posts without the a priori that I am trying to “pull a fast one” on my readers you will note that I primarily talk about the imprudence of this decision, in light of Church teaching and presumed medical fact. I’m happy you’ve decided to claim my insight as your own. Power to you, because it’s the correct issue at hand. The remainder of your final paragraph is a paraphrase of my own comments (I’m not saying you took them, I’m just wondering if you cared to read them or if because it appeared on my pages you couldn’t accept their legitimacy).

    I hope this helped clarify my position for you. If you are looking for more coverage of this issue, LifeSiteNews has posted here: http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2007/sep/07092807.html

    Best,

    Thomas

  • Irenaeus

    I gotta side with Thomas here, especially in his fourth point. As you wrote, “Now, on the surface this may appear to be a tedious, hair-splitting semantic game, but the distinction between can and may is extremely important in the discussion of causality in both ethical and scientific literature.” I suspect, as a student of semiotics, that the difference *here* between <> and <> is actually superficial in terms of import.

    I’m also (genuinely) curious what you think about Akin’s “deer hunter” principle. It seems to me that erring on the side of life is a good idea.

  • The “deer hunter” principle is an application of prudence. While there are fine Catholics and Catholic organizations that will argue the risk of death is sufficient to rule a means illicit, I can’t find magisterially support for compelling such a view. The proper question is whether one of the ordinary effects of Plan B causes an abortion. The medical evidence an noted in Mr Peters’s combox seems to suggest that it does not, but that it is an extraordinary possibility. Simarly, I am not choosing to endanger my child by propelling him at 65 mph in a car. Whether it is prudent for me to propel my child at such speeds or insure that the rape victim isn’t ovulating was not the question the bishops were addressing. They are simply saying that the ordinary use of Plan B is contraceptive and not abortive, and therefore the church and hospitals will tolerate the dispensation of the drug without verifying the fertility of rape victims.

  • Policraticus

    You write this:

    My understanding is that there is a scientific consensus regarding the abortifacient properties of Plan B.

    Then you write this:

    And I don’t see you providing any data to conclude otherwise.

    So I am supposed to provide the lack of data to demonstrate a scientific consensus? Isn’t that like claiming that I have to show you that purple unicorns don’t exist? You assert that there is a scientific consensus. Would that not put the onus on you to show us where that positive data is from?

    WHEN ACTING ABORTIFACIENTLY they BY DEFINITION fall under the category of ABORTION.

    Yes, you are correct here. But this not what you originally stated. I’ll quote you again to remind you: contraceptives with abortifacient potential fall under the same moral category as abortion because, when acting abortifaciently, they cause the death of a human being. You stated MORAL category, not ESSENTIAL category. I assume you know that difference as a student of theology. A moral category, by definition, includes not only the nature or ontology of an act or effect, but also the motive and intention of the subject.

    DV is pointing to the fact that contraceptives that with abortifacient capabilities quickly move into the moral realm of abortion.

    Perhaps you better read EV again. There is no mention or adumbration of some misty movement into the “moral realm” of abortion. John Paul II, without qualification, places contraception–including abortifacients–into a different moral category than abortion: Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and abortion are specifically different evils. He speaks only of a “close connection” between abortifacient contraceptive and abortion. Your conflation, I think, is creating the interpretative difficulties you face.

    You see, sometimes I presume a basic understanding of moral categories on the part of my readers.

    Yes, your assumption is good, as many of us do have a basic understanding. But I am beginning to wonder whether or not you possess the same, however. Your divorce of agent ethics and act ethics is disconcerting, not least of all because the major Catholic moral thinkers of our contemporary times (e.g., Wojtyla, Pinckaers) never separated (falsely) motivation, intent, direct/indirect effect and action itself. Yikes.

    Furthermore, my quotation from the USCCB document is completely relevant. “interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum”  this is exactly what Plan B is thought to do, and its manufacturers admit as much. How does this not support my claim?

    It does nothing to support your claims because Plan B is not “thought” to interfere with implantation. You may “think” it does, Thomas–not the bishops, manufacturer or scientists. Rather, it is thought that Plan B may or may not interfere–we do not know. Yours is a forced reading that goes against the plain phrasing of the agnosticism of the bishops, the pharmaceutical manufacturer and the science.

    How the semantic difference between “can” and “may” leads necessarily to me being wrong “beyond a shadow of a doubt” is a logical leap I’m unable to visualize.

    Hmmm…I’d say you’re “unwilling” to visualize it. As someone who studies moral theology, you should know that this distinction is manifest.

    I’m happy you’ve decided to claim my insight as your own. Power to you, because it’s the correct issue at hand. The remainder of your final paragraph is a paraphrase of my own comments (I’m not saying you took them, I’m just wondering if you cared to read them or if because it appeared on my pages you couldn’t accept their legitimacy).

    Right, except for the fact that you issued two judgments in your post, both of which I object to: 1. The CCC appears to have contradicted Church teaching and USCCB directives; 2. The CCC was wrong. I’m flattered that you desire to count yourself among my bigger influences!

  • Joe

    Ah, I just saw who the contributers were on this blog. Figures. Too smart for their own britches. Reasoning their way into the cafeteria.

  • Joe

    Thomas,

    There is no sense in arguing with these Nietzsche, Elizabeth Johnson, Karl Rahner, Sobrino admiring folks. They’ve made their mind up.

  • Yes Joe, for whatever reason others have a tendency to reason bishops into the cafeteria. That was a great contribution. Thanks!

  • Policraticus

    Joe,

    Personally, I have never warmed to Elizabeth Johnson or Karl Rahner, though I have read both. Of Sobrino, I’ve read very little, so I do not count him in the number of my masters. Nietzsche’s always a fun read, but I prefer Kierkegaard and Marcel for my dose of existentialism.

    But what has this to do with the topic of the post?

  • Joe

    Gee, I dunno… I thought you had a college edumacation.

  • The Church teaches that it is permissible for a woman who is the victim of sexual assault to utilize emergency contraception that does not have as its purpose or direct effect the aborting of a human life

    I must be missing something, because I can’t find any trace of a discussion of emergency contraception in that link. Could you explain or provide a different link?

  • Okay, let’s try a different tact and try to re-oriente this discussion. Could you respond to this thought:

    “There seems to be an inherent contradiction in the CCC statement. Namely, if Plan B cannot act as an abortifacient, than it should not matter if the woman has ovulated. That said, why does the CCC continue to demand that the law be changed to allow an ovulation test? Either the statement is wrong to request the ovulation test be written into the law, or they are actually not confident that Plan B is not-abortifacient, and IF they are not confident that Plan B is not-abortifacient, they should not be allowing it to be given to rape victims who may have ovulated.”

    I think that’s pretty concise. I’m calling here upon a deeper principle that in cases where there is a potential for danger to human life, one must refrain from a course of action that might result in the killing of an innocent life.

  • Joe

    Thomas,

    Policraticus here… Gollum… Gollum… methinks I can have my cake, precious… and eats it too… Gollum… Gollum…

  • Policraticus

    Irenaeus,

    You wrote: I suspect, as a student of semiotics, that the difference *here* between and is actually superficial in terms of import.

    I agree with you in the sense that this difference is superficial in common parlance. However, I can say as a student of ethics, myself, that this is very strong distinction in ethical theory. Likewise, in my years in college as a materials engineering major, I have learned the packaging of chemicals phrase warnings in terms of “may” and “can,” the former referring to conceivable possibility and the latter referring to actual ability.

    If we really read over Thomas point #4, we actually see that he actually admits that he imported his own understanding of the word into his reading. I merely reiterated what is a standard difference in ethics and science.

  • Policraticus

    Stuart,

    It is in #36.

    Joe,

    You’re right, my bad.

  • Joe

    Funny, isn’t it, how rabidly the contributers on this blog come to the defense of a minority of bishops on the liberal viewpoint of contraception. What will happen if the Vatican, sometime in the future, convinces these bishops to have a change of heart (another one)? I remember one of them coming to the defense of Sobrino when he was being questioned by the Vatican and his works were deemed in contrast to Church teaching.

  • Ah, I missed that. Thanks.

  • To clarify, I actually admitted to expecting my reader to take in considerations of context and not isolate the quotation from its surrounding discussion.

  • Joe

    Good night, sweethearts. I’m surprised that you chose the SPAM deli on the Protestant side of town over the delicious eats in Catholicville. Well, nah, a Jesuit education tends to convince Catholics that SPAM is better than tender steak. Good luck, precious.

  • Policraticus

    Thomas,

    I will respond gladly.

    The problem is your understanding of what the bishops mean and what the nature of the effect of Plan B is.

    Namely, if Plan B cannot act as an abortifacient, than it should not matter if the woman has ovulated.

    The bishops do not assert that Plan B “cannot act as an abortifacient.” This is a notion you must purge from your mind. It is not clear that Plan B “can” act as an abortifacient. Is it conceivable? Yes. Is it known? No. The fundamental point that must be grasped is that it is unknown whether or not Plan B, under any conditions and in any circumstances, acts as an abortifacient. To be able to act as an abortificient means that Plan B can act as an abortifacient, for “can” connotes not mere possibility, but actual power and ability (remember the Latin: possumus-to be able, can; potentia, potestas-power, ability). “May” connotes only conceivable possibility. The distinctions in ethical and scientific language, as you should know, are often subtle and fine.

    That said, why does the CCC continue to demand that the law be changed to allow an ovulation test?

    We have to think deeper than we’ve been doing thus far to answer this question. State Senate Bill 1343 is state law effective Monday, which means that the issue of whether or not Plan B is an abortifacient is irrelevant in terms of the legislation. Now, let us say that it is determined down the road scientifically that Plan B is an abortifacient. The CCC then fights for the right of the Catholic hospitals to refuse to administer Plan B on the grounds that it causes abortion. The state replies that, without an ovulation test, there is no effective way to tell whether or not a victim of sexual assault has ovulated and so the hospital, in its blanket judgment against Plan B, would be potentially denying the right to emergency contraception of every victim of sexual assault regardless of whether or not she has: 1. ovulated; 2. conceived. Such a scenario would potentially deny a victim of sexual assault from preventing conception, and the state would likely reject any appeal from the Catholic hospital on these grounds.

    Thus, the CCC wants a clause on the prefatory ovulation test inserted now so that in the event that Plan B is later found to be an abortifacient, the Catholic hospital can evaluate the moral rectitude of administering the drug on a case by case basis. On this account, the Catholic hospital may be able to make a case in defense of its denying Plan B to rape victims who have ovulated on the grounds that is more likely that conception has occurred and the drug would cause indirectly an abortion. Without the prefatory ovulation test written into the law, the Catholic hospital is powerless to challenge that law in the future should it be discovered that Plan B is, indeed, an abortifacient in some instances.

    Either the statement is wrong to request the ovulation test be written into the law, or they are actually not confident that Plan B is not-abortifacient, and IF they are not confident that Plan B is not-abortifacient, they should not be allowing it to be given to rape victims who may have ovulated.”

    The bishops are not confident (i.e. they are not certain) whether Plan B is an abortifacient or not. Because they are not certain, they decided to evaluate on prudential grounds (which I noted in my post). Their decision comes in light of their ignorance of all the effects of Plan B, the legal right of a victim of sexual assault to receive emergency contraception, and the morally licit act of providing a victim of sexual assault with emergency contraception that is not known to have as its purpose or direct effect the abortion of a fertilized ovum. They have indicated that the case is not closed, and that in light of further evidence, they may reconsider their decision. The rationale, as I see it, follows these lines:

    1. Moral – It may be better to err on the side of life, yet in doing so the CCC risks harming the good of the victim of rape should it be determined after all that Plan B is not an abortificient.

    2. Purpose/End – The purpose and direct effect of Plan B is to prevent conception, and so the act itself is not intrinsically evil though it is possible to conceive of scenarios where Plan B may have a potential evil effect

    3. Legal – Fighting the current legislation without concrete, scientific data that Plan B is most certainly an abortifacient, may cripple the CCC’s efforts to do battle down the road if it turns out that Plan B is, indeed, an abortifacient.

    Truth be told, Thomas, I would have had no problem with your post had it not been for the reckless judgments you issued on the doctrinal accuracy of the CCC. You took your post one step too far. Not even Jimmy Akin went so far as to even suggest that the CCC contradicted Church teaching.

  • Policraticus, in response to the olive branch you posted on my comments thread I’d like to alert you to my two additions to that thread as well as an emendation to my post (which will be published as soon as Blogger stops being contrary). To wit:
    1) Well then, I do hope for a more fruitful dialogue in future between us that purges my commentary of inaccuracies in service to the truth and the utility of my readership. AMDG.
    2) I have updated this post to soften my criticism of the document (and in so doing, improving the focus of its critique, i hope). I would ask that in future the tone of external criticism might be more amenable to genuinely pursuing the truth for the sake of the readership. As I have said often, I have no problem revising my posts where there are inaccuracies.

    The revision:

    “Thus this statement of the CCC appears to contradict both Church teaching and USCCB directives. [update: in response to some reasonable criticism, I should clarify that I believe this statement certainly both a) takes a step back from the previous position of U.S. hospitals regarding the morality of dispensing Plan B to rape victims who have ovulated and b) charts a different course of action than the USCCB has previously suggested, in accordance with principles ennunciated by Church documents. To this extent, and no further, I believe the document is problematic and must therefore be either a) repealed or b) further explained.]”

  • To continue the debate in a new spirit, I’d like to counter:
    1) Moral/Purpose/End I’m still uncomfortable with saying that the contraceptive intention behind taking the pill justifies the possible side-effect of killing a human life. To me, the possible side-effect of killing a human life outweights intrinsically one’s right to a contraceptive. This is actually a genuine question of principle that extends beyond the scientific details regarding Plan B. If one had moral certainty that Plan B could not act abortifaciently that would change matters. But I don’t see the bishops claiming moral certainty – far from it! They seem to be claiming ignorance, which isn’t good enough.
    2) Legal: If we are trying to look at the situation circumspectly, I think it is more dangerous to allow the law to compromise the Bishop’s self-governance of hospital procedures than to follow the current solution which includes, among other things, referral of rape victims to a pregnancy control center should they demand Plan B. Making the Catholic hospital employees compromise their own guidelines and directly participate in the administration of a treatment that may have morally-objectionable consequences is a bad precedent.

    btw, did you read what LSN posted about the Catholic Medical Association condeming in 2003 the claim that recent medical evidence had proven Plan B to be non-abortifacient as well as a 2003 study that Plan B only prevents ovulation half the time? http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2007/sep/07092807.html

    I’m in contact with a few folks in the medical information who are catching me up on the scientific data. Again, this would be so much easier if the CCC statement included – gasp – some citations for its claims.

  • I thought I would put my comment on the AmP site here as well (in case people are looking at one or the other alone).

    I edited it before posting here, to fix one sentence, and to change where I am posting on the comment, but otherwise, here it is:

    I don’t want to get into the debate. I am unclear about Plan B and don’t understand the complete reasoning behind the recent decision. I would be careful in asking my questions and try to discern what the Bishops are doing in a charitable away (not everyone has done this, as can be seen in the comments).

    However, reading the debate that manifested itself overnight — both here and on AmP — I thought of an analogy which might help everyone. It’s not one I would like to use (for various reasons), but I think it can puta a new light some of the issues.

    The use of fossil fuels may be causing global warming and leading to weather conditions which will kill innumerable people throughout the world over (and may already be doing so).

    Some people would argue “we don’t know, therefore it is ok to continue as we are.” Others think it would be prudent to suggest we start changing our behavior, because of various pieces of scientific evidence which show that the links are more likely than not,.

    Is this not a similar debate?

  • Policraticus

    To me, the possible side-effect of killing a human life outweights intrinsically one’s right to a contraceptive. This is actually a genuine question of principle that extends beyond the scientific details regarding Plan B. If one had moral certainty that Plan B could not act abortifaciently that would change matters. But I don’t see the bishops claiming moral certainty – far from it! They seem to be claiming ignorance, which isn’t good enough.

    This, I think, is the crux of the issue of prudence, and I am, too, and not totally comfortable with the outcome from CCC. This is why I do not commend or praise CCC’s decision. So while there was no contradiction of Church teaching, there is no question that the prudence question is still open.

    I think it is more dangerous to allow the law to compromise the Bishop’s self-governance of hospital procedures than to follow the current solution which includes, among other things, referral of rape victims to a pregnancy control center should they demand Plan B.

    This is a good point that you raise. Definitely, a compromise was made. Sure, the bishops may have been maneuvering for the anticipated variables of future litigation, but at what cost?

    I’m in contact with a few folks in the medical information who are catching me up on the scientific data. Again, this would be so much easier if the CCC statement included – gasp – some citations for its claims.

    I am disappointed that a few days have passed without clarification and/or documentation from the CCC.

  • Irenaeus

    MZ and Policratus, thanks.

    Henry, I think that’s really intriguing.

  • I don’t know about that comparison, Mr. Karlson. First, there is no evidence that anyone has ever died to due to the use of fossil fuel, with the exception of using it wrongly or mishaps like a succumbing carbon monoxide poisoning due to a clogged chimney flue or a car running in a closed garage, etc. On the other hand, one could reasonably consider the use of fossil fuels as an ultimate good. We’ve been using fossil fuels increasingly over the last 150 years and life expectancy has increasing along with it, especially evident in the regions where fossil fuels are used most. I’m not being so silly as to characterize this like carbon and sulfur emissions and the like are good for our bodies, but using the sort of technology that utilizes fossil fuels has allowed immense, almost unfathomable, advances in science and technology that have contributed directly and objectively to the improvement of the human condition. Distribution of foods, advancements in regards to suitable shelter and interior climate control, medicines, communication for the sharing of advancements, even the knowledge and ability to study the earth’s climate and theorize about what effect we’re having on it is directly influenced by our use of fossil fuels.

    Not trying to ignite another debate on “global warming”, just sharing why I think that analogy fails. Personally, I think the hunter analogy suffices in its embodiment of principles and simple communication.

  • Rick,

    There are people dying with the change of weather patterns. The melting ice is a disaster in the making (and already affecting some islands). If there is connection with our reliance on fossil fuels with this, then clearly it is a related concern. There is considerable evidence to suggest this. I think it is more than sufficient but others do not. Yet are they going to say there is absolutely no connection and they are certain? Or will they say there MAY be a connection> And if you start saying that.. then yes.. it’s “what I do MAY be killing people” which is the same question.

  • Henry,

    First, ee don’t know that there is a change of weather patterns that would be out of the earths normal behavior. Who’s to say that the earth has never behaved as it is now or that what we witness wouldn’t have happened with or without our use of fossil fuels. It simply can’t be done. If, lets, Hurricane Katrina was the only hurricane ever known to us, we still would not be able to conclude that it was the likely result of our use of fossil fuels, it could have just as easily been caused from a peculiar set of circumstances that were set in motion during the creation of the planet. On the other hand, it is reasonable, to conclude without a doubt that using fossil fuels is saving a great many lives at this very moment. From the ambulance burinng gasoline while taking the heart-attack patient to the hospital, to the paramedics and doctors who use electricity from the coal burning plant to restart the patient’s heart, to the well lit, climate controlled facility that is sanitary due to our knowledge of such things that were derived from the use of fossil fuels. That is direct and knowable – that someone who died due to the trauma of a storm, something that has happened throughout the history of man, and will no doubt continue to happen is not knowable to have been caused from fossil fuel use. And to the contrary, the storm victim who normally would have died, but was helivacted out of harms way and treated in a hospital was saved in no small part to the use of fossil fuels.

    If we are ever to wean ourselves from fossil fuel use, it will be in great part by using fossil fuels. Their use is/will be instrumental in developing the technology and methods of their discontinuation. If nothing else, their use will assist mankind in adapting to any climate changes that are occurring, whether they be caused from fossil fuel use or the earth’s natural processes.

  • So you are saying absolutely, positively no connection and you know this for sure? If not, then it may be the case….

  • It’s not that, Henry, we cannot say for sure that people are dying or will die directly due to our use of fossil fuels via global warming any more than we can say that the deaths from Hurricane Katrina were or weren’t directly related to a butterfly flapping its wings in Western Africa. But this we can say, without any reasonable doubt: The use of fossil fuels does and is save lives. It is happening throughout the globe as we speak. We know this to be a true and we know it to be a good, both now and historically.

    If we were to stop all consumption of fossil fuels right now, we couldn’t say with any surety that global warming would stop immediately or in a course of n years or that any lives would be saved that might have been lost if we had proceeded on our current course. However, we do know that if stopped using fossil fuels at this moment, a great many lives would be lost immediately. Defibrillators and ventilators all stopped, ambulances stopped, dialysis machines stopped. The ships carrying grain to drought-stricken regions stopped. Water treatment plants stopped.

    Again, I didn’t intend on making this a global warming debate. My issue was the usefulness of your analogy. Many others here, perhaps yourself included, are far more qualified to debate the intricacies of moral acts, agents, etc. I just don’t see the global warming thing analogous to the consideration at hand because of the weakness of the “may” contrasted to the known moral good of the “does” and the directness of the acts in question (if that even makes sense – I don’t know how to express it any better).

  • magdalen

    Here is what the Vatican has to say about the morning after pill:

    The Pontifical Academy of Life in October 2000 condemned the use of the morning after pill writing, among other things, that:
    3. It is clear, therefore, that the proven “anti-implantation” action of the morning-after pill is really nothing other than a chemically induced abortion. It is neither intellectually consistent nor scientifically justifiable to say that we are not dealing with the same thing.

    Moreover, it seems sufficiently clear that those who ask for or offer this pill are seeking the direct termination of a possible pregnancy already in progress, just as in the case of abortion. Pregnancy, in fact, begins with fertilization and not with the implantation of the blastocyst in the uterine wall, which is what is being implicitly suggested.

    4. Consequently, from the ethical standpoint the same absolute unlawfulness of abortifacient procedures also applies to distributing, prescribing and taking the morning-after pill. All who, whether sharing the intention or not, directly co-operate with this procedure are also morally responsible for it.

    ——
    As a pharmacist with a conscience clause so that I do NOT have to dispense items with abortifacient properties such as Plan B or birth control pills, these acts on the parts of bishops seriously jeodardizes my ability to continue to refuse. I once left the profession on this issue and I had a number of priests explain to me why I could continue on but the Holy Spirit would not leave me alone. Anyway, when our ‘leaders’ publicly approve the morning after pill, even though the Vatican has comdemned the practice, then it leaves many confused and those such as myself with a weakened position.

    I may have to quit pharmacy at some point and I realize that. Legalized euthanasia is on the horizon and I will not be a part of that either. But I would rather be unemployed than dispense plan b. And I see the requests after every weekend as there are any number of ’emergencies’. And one can play with words and turn things around and play with emotions and everything else but the bottom line is that if a fertilized egg is dispelled, then a life has been taken. Period.

  • Magdalen,

    Thank you for the info. My understanding is that there is not conclusive scientific evidence yet to determine if Plan B acts in the same fashion as those other morning-after pills that do cause an abortion. The bishops, I understand, made their decision because it is not yet known if Plan B qualifies as one of the drugs of which the Vatican speaks.

  • jh

    Good Post. In the end I hope the Vatican steps in will quick. IT seems we are playing how angels we can put on the head of a pin here. I also think the Church is losing credibulity here. More importantly are we putting sould themselves in danger.

  • Very interesting debate. As I know very little about Plan B, I will not insert myself into it. But it seems that many people have insufficient appreciation for what the Church does not know for sure, and how prudence enters the picture: this is what “prudential judgment” really means, as opposed to a get-out-of-jail-free card for teachings I don’t like. Henry’s global warming example is apt. Sure, we cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that global warming is taking place at the pace predicted by scientists, but — given the immense economic and social costs that would arise– it is prudent to take action today to protect the environment, even if that means a small dimunition in living standards.

    Another example that comes to mind is the recent CDF note on the moral licitness of provding nutrition and hydration to patients in persistent vegetative states (PVS). As PVS is not well understood, some moralists (going back to the 1950s at least) argued that the provision of food and water was an extraordinary treatment, and hence not morally obligatory. Others disagreed. At one point, the Texas and Pennsylvania bishops took different stances. Now that the magisterium has ruled, we must accept the outcome. But that is very different from accusing, say, the Florida bishops for standing by and letting Terry Schiavo die, when what they were doing was faithfully adhering to Catholic teaching.

  • utvideam

    Basically, I see the Connecticut bishops (and their apologists) engaged in a rather shameful bit of obfuscation to justify their flip-flop. Namely, they claim that the exact mechanism of action of Plan B is not clear, and hence it’s not certain whether Plan B is abortifacient. And indeed, there may not be empirical data on the specific hormonal variant at the specific dosage employed by Plan B. But the data from very similar preparations is clear: hormonal oral contraceptives, by altering the endometrium to prevent implantation, are abortifacient. To cling to the notion that somehow this particular preparation is different from all its other kissing cousins in its effect is wishful thinking at best.

    I think the statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life, while not a magisterial pronouncement, reflects the clear mind of the Church on the administration of abortifacient “contraceptives.”

    The bishops stated in their earlier letter to the governor that requiring an ovulation test is in keeping with the “more probable teaching.” They have since abandoned that position for one that veers dangerously toward laxism (following the most permissive opinion, even if it is not solidly probable—a moral methodology condemned by the Church). A very bad precedent, to my mind.

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  • bill bannon

    Utvideam
    A doctor over at American Papist points out that the altering of the endometrium
    are partly the result of women taking the bill constantly month after month not as in Plan B….twice in a day’s period. Look over there for posts by Mary…a doctor who had to read all the literature around this and the literature made her stop prescribing birth control pills but changed her in the other direction on Plan B.

  • Michaelus

    The hormonal “switch” that stops implantation in the endometrium is very quick (otherwise we would have nothing but twins and triplets – or really we would be extinct because women would die trying to carry 30-50 babies to term).

    The visible change of the endometrium takes longer.

  • Anonymous

    The hormonal “switch” that stops implantation in the endometrium is very quick (otherwise we would have nothing but twins and triplets – or really we would be extinct because women would die trying to carry 30-50 babies to term).

    So 30-50 babies are aborted naturally for every one that gets implanted?

  • Smith

    Bill Bannon is a well-known supporter of contraception. The owners of the blog and other cafeteria Catholics like him are clearly the only Catholic allies the Connecticut bishops have right now. Hopefully the USCCB meeting in November will bring a change for the better in the U.S. No doubt such a change will cause pain in bowels of the liberal Catholics blogging on this site.

  • Smith

    Ask yourself, “Who’s lining up to defend the Connecticut bishops’ recent decision and who is lining up to ask them to overturn it”. Look at the faces, study their theology, listen to their points of view… then, contemplate, which side would you place the care of your soul in?

    Is this a time for a bunch of self-styled intellectuals to convince themselves that contraception is really not against Church teaching? Do they really see the slippery slope ahead of them? What does one gain by agreeing with them? What does one potentially lose?

    Just take a look at who’s on what side. Are you really going to listen to a bunch of perpetual college-students who have been trained at the finest Jesuit universities? What does your conscience say?

  • Smith
  • Ut videam

    Thanks for the link, Smith. I think Fr. Euteneuer addresses the issue perfectly.

  • kylelmeade

    Good post. My blog is to American Papist as Olbermann is to Hannity. Check it out!