Friday, January 26, 2007

Plan B, The Courant Panics

This is a commentary on an editorial that recently appeared in the Hartford Courant under the title, “Plan B Can’t Wait.” Some data, here provided in italics, was not included in the editorial.

Up to 8 percent of sexually assaulted women in the United States become pregnant with the assailant's child. Some undoubtedly do so because hospitals fail to help them in time. The consequences can be devastating.

And some undoubtedly do because they choose not to avail themselves of hospital services. What is the breakdown?

Rape counselors have documented widespread negligence in Connecticut hospitals when it comes to making emergency contraception available to victims of sexual assault.

Of the negligent hospitals, what percentage are non-Catholic?

Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services counselors who accompanied rape victims to hospitals in the first half of 2006 say that 40 percent of them were offered too little or none of the so-called Plan B drug.

That figure, in the future, is bound to be reduced, if only because Plan B is more readily available now than when the figures were taken, especially in Connecticut, where a suit was brought forcing pharmacies to provide the drug over the counter, without prescription. Since the editorial is concerned primarily with Catholic hospitals, why does the paper not provide a statistical breakdown.

Some 500 rape victims go to Connecticut hospitals for emergency treatment every year. If the rape counselors are right, that means 200 women and girls are receiving insufficient protection.

That is an interpolated figure. Why aren’t real figures available?

Sixteen of those women are statistically at risk of becoming pregnant and could, if they don't act fast, undergo surgical abortions later.

In the last year, how many rape victims to whom Catholic hospitals did not provide Plan B thereafter became pregnant and were forced to seek an abortion? When Victim Advocate James Papillo said during legislative testimony some time ago that he had received no complaints concerning Catholic hospitals in his official capacity, he was denounced and told he had put his job in jeopardy. At the time, the usual defenders of the First Amendment in Connecticut ingloriously bit their tongues

Catholic hospitals balk at providing emergency contraception because the church believes Plan B destroys the life begun when a woman's egg is fertilized by sperm. But scientists say Plan B may prevent fertilization.

True, but it cannot “prevent” fertilization after fertilization has occurred. After fertilization, Plan B destroys a developing fetus. The Catholic Church regards the intentional destruction of a fetus as an abortion, and scientist who regard the birth process as beginning with fertilization would agree with them.

The drug also works by stopping the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says pregnancy begins at the point of implantation. So do federal regulations, which state that "pregnancy encompasses the period of time from implantation until delivery." Because of this, several states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, require all hospitals to dispense Plan B.

Catholic hospitals also dispense Plan B for rape victims – except in cases where fertilization may occur, a datum omitted from the Courant editorial.

As lawmakers, scientists and theologians argue over when life begins, hundreds of sexually assaulted girls and women in Connecticut are given little or no say in a matter that is far from an abstract parsing of medical terms for them.

Doctors and pharmacists should not be forced to act against their consciences. But an injured woman must get the safe and legal care she needs as quickly as possible, to avoid even more harm. She shouldn't have to hospital-shop desperately for contraceptives in the dead of night when pharmacies are closed and the odds of stopping pregnancy decrease with every passing hour.

Plan B is effective when taken within 48 hours of a rape. In the case of a woman who may be pregnant, has been raped and has been brought to a Catholic Hospital, the hospital will provide transportation to other facilities that provide Plan B well within that time period. The Catholic hospitals in Connecticut are within a half hour drive of non-Catholic hospitals. If the Courant had mentioned this data, readily available, in its editorial, its readers might have paused a bit before considering forcing Catholics in a Catholic hospital to violate their conscience by providing Plan B to patients when it is readily available by other means. Remember, Catholic hospitals require Catholics to refrain from providing Plan B – which may be an abortifacient after ovulation has occurred –only if the victim may be pregnant. The editorial also does not mention that the Catholic Church reserves its most severe punishment – excommunication – for those Catholics who assist in the procuring of an abortion. The editorial also does not mention that the US Constitution provides that the governing authority can make no law “prohibition the free exercise” of religion, which would be the case if the state of Connecticut were to force Catholics to sin against their conscience by providing a medical remedy that is widely available and can be utilized by other means.

There must be someone inside every hospital, whether secular or religious, who will offer, immediately, the compassionate help a distraught and wounded woman needs.

But posting someone inside Catholic hosptials to provide Plan B to patients who may be pregnant degrades the specifically Catholic mission of the hospital and forces its employees to act against their conscience, and the Courant has already declared in the editorial cited that "Doctors and pharmacists should not be forced to act against their consciences."

"Should not" should mean should not.

Copyright 2007, Hartford Courant

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