By John-Henry Westen

MADISON, WI, December 19, 2007 ( – Madison Bishop Robert C. Morlino has distanced himself from the Wisconsin Conference of Catholic Bishops neutral position regarding a bill which would mandate even Catholic hospitals to administer the morning after pill (so-called emergency contraception) upon request to women who have been raped.  In a letter to the Wisconsin legislature, dated December 17, the Bishop tells the legislators, “I urge you, by this letter, to oppose AB 377,” (the legislation in question).

A debate over such measures has been raging in the US with numerous states having enacted similar legislation and several bishops’ conferences refusing to oppose the measures.

At issue is the abortifacient nature of the morning after pill, which some scientists have called into question even though several studies have shown abortion is a possible outcome of administering the drugs. 

While the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life condemned any use of the morning after pill in a document issued in 2000 (see:…) some Catholic ethicists remain unconvinced.

Bishops conferences which have permitted the morning after pill in Catholic hospitals for rape victims 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:  )

In his letter, Bishop Morlino explains that “The hoped-for effect of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference’s earlier stance of neutrality on this bill was to protect women who are the victims of rape, while also protecting the possible pre-born human being, by affirming the necessary conscience exemption for institutions and individuals with regard to the appropriate testing, so as to avoid abortifacient emergency contraception.”

He adds: “It is my judgment as Bishop of Madison that the earlier position of neutrality did not have its hoped for effect, and so it is now moot, and this neutrality position has now expired.”

Since the debate among US Catholic theologians began in earnest early this year there was a related papal intervention which may have raised some eyebrows.

Speaking to pharmacists who took part in the 25th international congress of Catholic pharmacists this October, Pope Benedict XVI warned them against dispensing drugs “that have the goal of preventing the implantation of the embryo.” The Pope’s remarks bear directly on the morning after pill as its manufacturers state precisely that inhibiting implantation of the embryo is one of its possible effects.

Bishop Morlino stated in his letter that “Our conference’s neutrality stance has also unintentionally provoked scandal among Catholics who have been persuaded by statements in the media that we are becoming less fervent in our defense of the dignity of pre-born human life.”