Catholic objections to the 'morning-after' pill

Catholic objections to the 'morning-after' pill

Maria Luisa Di Pietro

Following exchanges of views in the London 'Tablet' during which a prominent Australian theologian expressed support for use of the "morning after pill" (see August 'AD2000'), it is significant that the following article (here shortened) appeared in the Vatican's official newspaper 'L'Osservatore Romano.' In her article, Maria Luisa Di Pietro, who teaches at the Institute of Bioethics, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Rome, clarifies the Church's opposition to use of the "morning after" pill.

The term "morning-after pill" indicates a series of preparations which are given to a woman after - but not more than 72 hours after (hence the name "morning-after") - sexual intercourse that is presumed fertile. The effective action of "emergency contraception", and hence of the "morning-after pill", is abortifacient: in 80 per cent to 100 per cent of the cases the embryo is prevented from being implanted.

Those who say that the "morning-after pill" is not abortifacient, but prevents implantation, do not realise that they are affirming its abortifacient nature when they say that it prevents implantation: since this action can only take place after fertilisation and works by preventing the continued development of the embryo, it can only be abortifacient.

What has been said by those who maintain that preventing implantation is not abortifacient is denied moreover by E. Beaulieu, who, as the inventor of RU 486, otherwise known as the "abortion pill", surely cannot be accused of religiously-motivated opinions: "Interruption of pregnancy after fertilisation can be regarded in the same way as abortion".

Then there are those who, while recognising that the "morning-after pill" is abortifacient, call attention to the fact that in up to 20 per cent of the cases it might also act as a contraceptive: this would only occur if it were taken before the release of the egg cell from the ovary. But is it likely that a woman who, for various reasons takes a "morning-after pill," would know what precise point in her cycle she has reached, in order to determine whether the result will be abortifacient or contraceptive?

Furthermore, even if it is true that the woman who takes the "morning-after pill" may not be pregnant or that the abortifacient effect will not occur, the woman who requests the pill and the doctor who prescribes or administers it willingly accept the risk of causing an abortion. Indeed, had there been a pregnancy, they would have opted precisely for abortion.

In the recent debate on the "morning-after pill" in particular and on "emergency contraception" in general, attention was drawn to only one situation which so many desperate persons are facing these days: violence to women in wartime. But watch out: campaigns for the "morning-after pill" do not only concern war zones and they do not only target women who have been raped.

Just think that, along with the many calls for all "emergency contraception" to be sold over the counter at pharmacies, that is, without a medical prescription, and to be readily available at all health-care centres for women and particularly for adolescent girls, there are also aid plans which envisage constant, programmed shipments of "emergency contraceptives" to developing countries and refugee camps.

Family planning organisations

It is in fact a routine practice of family planning organisations to send reproductive emergency kits, not only after a war - which suggests a concern for the woman who has just been raped, although no concern for the baby - but to those places where violent behaviour has not been curbed and so there is a desire to solve the situation in this way. See, for example, what was planned in 1996 for the Great Lakes region in Central Africa: at least $500,000 was allocated to promote reproductive health. The aid package included: family planning; the prevention of so-called unsafe abortions; "emergency contraception" for women who were victims of sexual violence or who had "unprotected" or unplanned sexual relations.

As we have said, the campaign to promote the "morning-after pill" also targets women who have been victims of sexual aggression.

Some have written that, in this case, conception was the result of a violent act, the most cruel, wicked and detestable that a woman can suffer: refusal to accept the elimination of this life - it is said - would be a sin of insensitivity!

It is a fact that the after-effects of rape will never be erased from a woman's memory, just as she will never be able to forget that someone treated her as an object, someone attacked her with a brutality unworthy even of animals. But not even abortion will erase this memory: those who suggest it, those who impose it, those who request it, answer violence with violence, not only towards the woman, but especially towards the child, whose life should be respected like any other life conceived.

With abortion, wrote John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae, n. 58, "the one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby's cries and tears. The unborn child is totally entrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in the womb".

For the woman to accept this child growing in her womb, the child of someone who did not love her, can be extremely difficult: she must be given help and support, she and her child must be cared for. She needs affection, not a box of pills!

When the baby is born, the woman will decide whether to keep it or to give it up to others for care. With the one great certainty however: she has not added to that madness of destruction and death which tried in an instant to erase her dignity as a woman, her world, her aspirations, her hopes. In these cases, real understanding for the woman means practical help for her and for the life of her child.

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