by John-Henry Westen

HARTFORD, April 30, 2007 ( – The Catholic Bishops Conferences of Wisconsin and Connecticut have dropped opposition to provision of the abortifacient morning after pill at Catholic hospitals for rape victims.  Laws in both states are going forward to mandate such use of the morning after pill in all hospitals, Catholic ones included. 

  The decision is more controversial in Wisconsin where legislators who have previously opposed such measures have dropped their opposition seeing that the Catholic Church has come out as unopposed to the legislation.  In Connecticut however the proposed law, as it stands, does not require a pregnancy test before the administration of the morning after pill and thus the Bishops conference is maintaining its opposition to the legislation.

The drug acts both to halt ovulation, if that has not yet occurred, and also to cause an abortion, if fertilization has taken place, by making the lining of the uterus unable to sustain pregnancy.

The bishops are basing their decisions on an interpretation of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops document: Ethical and Religious Directives (E.R.D.) for Catholic Health Care Services which states at no. 36 with regard to a woman who has been raped:  “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 the process by which spermatozoa in the ampullary portion of a uterine tube become capable of going through the acrosome reaction and fertilizing an oocyte.”  However, the document adds: “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.” (see the document: )

The only public Vatican statement on the morning after pill condemns its use outright.  The Pontifical Academy for Life states that “the 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.” (see the full Vatican statement here: )

The problem lies not so much in theology but in science.  What the US Conference document is aiming at is preventing conception after rape, rather than abortion.  However, pregnancy occurs not at implantation of the unborn child in the uterus, but at fertilization which can occur within minutes after intercourse.  Further, normal pregnancy tests based on a hormone known as hcG is accurate only if a woman is at least one week pregnant by the time of the test, since the body’s chemical changes resulting from pregnancy which are picked up by the devices must be at a detectable level. This takes at least five days rather than minutes or hours.

Should a woman have been impregnanted by the rape, a pregnancy test would likely not detect it within the first couple of days after the rape, thus taking the morning after pill in such a scenario would cause an abortion even though the pregnancy test had shown no pregnancy.

In testimony before the Wisconsin Senate Committee, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference noted that Catholic hospitals were in fact already administering the morning after pill with the use of pregnancy tests.  Kim Wadas, Associate Director for Health Care at the Conference, told the committee, “Catholic hospitals in Wisconsin can and do treat victims with emergency contraception.” (see the full testimony here:

Dr. John Shea M.D., who has for some years specialized in researching and reporting on life issues, is the medical consultant to He notes that since the administration of abortifacient drugs may place an innocent human life at stake, surety is required that the woman in question is not yet pregnant. That absolute certainty cannot be provided by science, he says. He compares the doubt about whether the woman is already pregnant to the classic example of the hunter’s doubt about whether a movement behind a bush is caused by deer or a human being. “You can’t shoot unless you’re certain it’s a deer,” he says.

Famed Catholic moral theologian Msgr. William Smith, who teaches at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, concurs.  “It’s wrong to say, you can use anything that has abortifacient properties. Emergency contraception is double talk … it’s what I call ‘verbal engineering’. Catholic hospitals are not free to prescribe or provide anything with abortifacient properties without contradicting their witness.”

However, with Bishops Conferences and theologians differing so widely on these matters of life and death, pro-life Catholics are being urged to contact the Pontifical Academy for Life for clarification on these vital points.

To politely request that the Pontifical Academy for Life clarify the situation write:
[email protected]