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In Harrisburg, a legislative mandate for hospitals to provide emergency contraception (EC) to victims of sexual assault is being considered. This drug treatment is confusing. How does it work? Where does the Catholic Church stand? Why should citizens care?
EC is a high dose of birth control. It prevents pregnancy by delaying ovulation, preventing fertilization, or preventing a fertilized egg from implantation if taken within a few hours of intercourse. Catholic teaching holds that life begins at conception, so if a fertilized egg is prevented from implanting in the womb, it is considered an abortion – the termination of a human life.
No community is untouched by the violence of rape. The Church, through Catholic hospitals, has for years given care and treatment to rape victims. Each victim is provided compassionate care and emotional support.
Catholic hospitals are committed to treating victims with compassion, sensitivity and respect. Catholic teaching explains that a woman who has been raped should be able to defend herself from a potential conception and receive treatments to suppress ovulation and prevent fertilization. Because sexual assault is an act of unjust aggression, Pennsylvania’s Catholic hospitals may administer emergency contraception when tests confirm that conception has not likely occurred.
However, if medical tests suggest that conception may have occurred, the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania indicate that no drug should be provided by a Catholic facility that will interfere with the implantation of a newly conceived human life. The loss of an innocent human life is simply not morally defensible.
An amendment to the EC legislation provides a religious exemption which would give freedom to religious health care providers to provide appropriate compassionate care. It would avoid a government requirement which would otherwise trample religious freedom and conscience. The bill may be considered before the end of the legislative session.
There are many public policy issues like this one which are important to Catholics. Catholic voters are encouraged to educate themselves about these concerns. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) is the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Bishops. To learn more, log on to www.pacatholic.org.
PCC Column October 2006 by Amy Beisel, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.