Catholic Bishops Agree -- Reluctantly, Reluctantly! -- to Treat Rape Victims

To the great dismay of Catholic bishops, Connecticut's lawmakers have mandated that all of the state's hospital emergency rooms, including Catholic-run hospitals, must make emergency contraception for pregnancy prevention available to every rape victim who comes through their doors.

The Connecticut Catholic bishops are not happy. They have agreed, according to the current issue of the National Catholic Register, to "reluctant compliance."

Reluctant? Every time this issue comes up -- an issue that, astonishingly, remains unresolved in many parts of the country -- we have to ask: How can these guys live with themselves? Their goal is to deprive a woman who has been raped -- forcibly penetrated by a man who gets off on violence and violation -- of the means to prevent a pregnancy, with the express aim of forcing her to carry the rapist's progeny to term.

And that is exactly what the Catholic churchmen have been doing. The Vatican publicly and vociferously denounced the UN's plan some years ago to send the "morning after" pill to women raped in the wars in Kosovo and Bosnia. Catholic bishops have been lobbying all over the country against these laws, claiming that EC is an abortifacient because it can impede implantation of a fertilized egg (as opposed to preventing fertilization).

Many Catholic hospitals put every raped woman who appears in their ERs through another ordeal, requiring her to take and wait for the results of a urine test to see if she's ovulating. If she isn't ovulating and EC is therefore useless to her, she can have it. If she is ovulating -- and is therefore in grave danger of becoming pregnant from the rape -- they refuse to give her EC.

Because this new law mandates the provision of EC, the urine test is down the toilet.

So the bishops have shifted position. There are several reasons for this. First, they make a ton of money in their hospitals. To refuse to comply, they'd have to close those institutions down, and you won't see them doing that.

Second, while they like you to think their theology is set in holy stone, it's actually quite fungible, when it's to their advantage. Despite their past claims that EC is immoral, evil, and all of the denunciations they like to hurl at things female (birth control, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, abortion), and despite a Vatican declaration that EC, whether interfering with implantation or fertilization, "is really nothing other than a chemically induced abortion," they're singing a different tune.

Their new position holds that since you can't know when EC is interfering with implantation, and since that's probably not often the case, and since we're not talking about a high number of women who get pregnant from rape (several thousand women in the U.S., who cares?), then dispensing EC without the ovulation test is not "intrinsically evil."

"In permitting Catholic hospitals to comply with this law, neither our teaching nor our principles have changed," lied Bridgeport, CT Bishop William Lori, chair of the U.S. Bishops Committee of Doctrine (and, less illustriously, as I point out in Good Catholic Girls, a bishop who has kept an accused priest sex molester in ministry after including his victim in a $21 million settlement). "We have altered the prudential judgment we previously made."

The twisting of their theological "truths" to serve their own ends reveals the capricious nature of the decision-making process of this all-powerful, all-male hierarchy. Unfortunately, there is no indication that they are willing to allow the woman who has been raped or any other pregnant woman to make her own "prudential judgment."

Interestingly, Dan O'Brien, VP of ethics of St. Louis-based Ascension Health, which has 65 acute care hospitals including St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, expressed great alarm that lawmakers would dare to make laws governing medical institutions. He obviously forgot that regulation of medical care and medical providers is one of the most important jobs of policymakers and lawmakers in their efforts to protect public health.

Connecticut's new law goes back to basics. It is a triumph of state over church. It insures that women who have been raped get the care they need when they enter a hospital, any hospital, if it serves the general public, employs the general public, and lives off public monies, as do Catholic institutions. America's Catholic hospitals are not little islands of religiosity, employing and serving only devout Catholics with private monies. They are full-fledged institutions that have established themselves firmly in the secular health care world.

Their responsibilities are to all of us, not just the men in the mitres.