A so-called “emergency contraception bill” currently working its way through the Legislature may require Catholic hospitals to provide abortifacient medication to women who have been victims of rape. Such a bill would force hospitals to disregard their vocation and mission, one that includes respect for all human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.
This attack on religious freedom borders on the inconceivable. However, the inconceivable may happen, again, here in Massachusetts.
The bill is now in a conference committee, after the Senate rejected a House amendment that would exempt private hospitals from providing abortifacient drugs.
The drugs the law would require hospitals to offer have two potential effects: They can prevent ovulation, thus avoiding fertilization. However, if fertilization has already taken place, the drugs can prevent the implantation of the embryo in the uterus, causing an abortion.
Catholic hospitals stand ready to assist victims of rape. They can even provide emergency contraception so long as the victim is not already pregnant. A simple test is enough to make that determination. But a blanket obligation to provide these controversial drugs amounts to an attack on religious freedom.
The Church is fully committed to the defense of rape victims, but the Church is also fully committed to the protection of human life from the moment of conception. When these two values clash, the obligation to protect human life must prevail.
In a 2001 document, the U.S. bishops explain the Church’s position on emergency contraception: “Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials, offer the person psychological and spiritual support and accurate medical information. 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” (“Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” n.36).
We hope that common sense, not so common in the Statehouse of late, prevails. The exemption that prevents private hospitals from being forced to cooperate with the evil of abortion should remain in force.