By John-Henry Westen

  VATICAN CITY, February 29, 2008 ( – Bishop Elio Sgreccia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, spoke with Tuesday on the subject of the use of the morning after pill in cases of rape.  Catholic hospitals in several dioceses in North America are currently administering the pill (Plan B) to patients who claim to be victims of rape. 

  According to Bishop Sgreccia, however, the morning after pill may not be administered by Catholic physicians.  The only Vatican opinion on the subject, absolutely prohibiting the use of the pill, was released by the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2000.  Since then, however, the Catholic Health Association, advisor to many bishops conferences, has suggested that there is no moral impediment to using the pill in cases of rape.  Several bishops conferences have followed the advice and permitted administration of the drugs in Catholic hospitals in cases where rape is asserted. spoke with Bishop Sgreccia about the issue at the conclusion of a two day conference of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which took place February 25-26 in Vatican City.  Speaking in English, Bishop Sgreccia affirmed that the position of the Church on the matter has not changed since the 2000 publication of the Pontifical Academy’s document. 

“But the position of the church is the same,” he told  “The morning after pill is dangerous; is an abortifacient when there is a conception and so illicit to prescribe by doctors.”

“Thus,” added the Bishop, “there is the same position from the beginning of the presentation of this pill.  It is not medicine, not a composition for health, so physicians are not obliged to prescribe it. It is forbidden for Catholic doctors to prescribe it and also to be requested by Catholics.” asked Bishop Sgreccia if there was an exception in cases of rape.  The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life replied, “No.  It is not able to prevent the rape. But it is able to eliminate the embryo.  It is thus the second negative intervention on the woman (the first being the rape itself).”

  Monsignor Andrew R. Baker, a professor at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome, told that the unchanged published opinion of the Pontifical Academy on the question is the “highest level” of advice given by the Holy See.

  Monsignor Baker explained that the possibility that the pill could abort a child made its administration absolutely prohibited.  Speaking of the abortifacient nature of the morning after pill, he said, “If it is in any way that possibility it cannot be used because it does attack life.”

  While the manufacturers of the morning after pill and several studies have noted a possible abortifacient effect of the pill, a few studies have also suggested that the pill works to halt ovulation when ovulation has not already occurred, and is not therefore abortifacient.  The science is not conclusive on the point, with different studies having come out on either side of the debate. 

  And therefore, says the Professor at the Angelicum, “if we’re dealing with human life and there is some reasonable doubt placed in the equation we should not use (the pill).  “If there’s reasonable doubt whether or not there is a child then it should not be used.”

  Baker, quoting a classic example of St. Thomas Aquinas on the matter, explained: “It’s the same as that classic case.  If you’re out hunting and you see something moving in the bush and you don’t know if it’s the deer or your fellow hunter, then you don’t shoot.” 

  The ethical problems with Plan B, however, goes beyond the abortifiacient effects of the pill, especially if the drug is to be administered in Catholic hospitals. 

  The Catholic Church teaches that contraception in itself is an “intrinsic evil” and thus, argues renowned theologian Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, a Doctor of Theology who has taught at universities and seminaries for forty years, would prohibit Catholic hospitals from administering Plan B even if it acted as a contraceptive rather than causing abortions. 

“Prevention of procreation is intrinsically evil prior to and independently of any good end which might be achieved thereby, such as avoiding further violence at the hands of a rapist”, explains Fr. Fehlner.  “The woman may certainly resist and should resist to the limit permitted by divine law any sexual assault. But she may not do this by using a means which is intrinsically evil, in this case considering the conception of a child an act of violence justifying the use of contraception.” (see coverage: )

  Moreover, Plan B has many negative side effects which will be inflicted on the victim of rape should it be administered.  According to the manufacturer Plan B’s side effects include “nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, menstrual changes, dizziness, breast tenderness, vomiting, and diarrhea.”

  See the Pontifical Academy for Life Document on the Morning After Pill here: