Sunday, March 18, 2007

Plan B Flotsam

Every so often, in what we are pleased to call a “debate” on a polarizing issue, a piece of information will float by, like flotsam in a rain swollen stream, that sticks in the mind like a burr.

Such was the testimony of Dr. Frank Davidoff before the state’s Human Services Committee, which later voted out a bill that will satisfy thoroughly all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.

Davidoff’s testimony supported proponents of a bill titled “An Act Concerning Compassionate Care for Victims of Sexual Assault.” He said, “In fact, the most careful and rigorous study that’s been done to date, which was published just last month in the scientific literature, showed that while Plan B was nearly 100% effective in preventing pregnancy when it was used before ovulation occurred, it was almost completely ineffective in preventing pregnancy when it was used after ovulation and fertilization had occurred.”

Catholic hospitals refuse to administer Plan B only on one condition; otherwise it is routinely administered on request to rape victims. If, after testing, there is reason to believe that ovulation has occurred and the victim may be pregnant, the Catholic hospital will not administer Plan B. The hospital staff will accommodate the victim in other ways, should she want to take the drug.

Now, Dr. Davidoff says that the drug is “completely ineffective” when used after ovulation, the only time Catholic hospitals will refuse to administer the drug. The committee, despite Dr. Davidoff’s testimony, obviously thought that this was the perfect opportunity to issue a bill that would force Catholic Hospitals to violate their religious precepts by administering a pill that the good doctor said would be “completely ineffective” under the only circumstances in which Catholic hospitals would refuse to administer the… what to call it? …placebo?

Given this intelligence, provided by a doctor by no means friendly to the Catholic position on the issue, does the bill make sense?

When I asked that question on a blog site -- also not friendly to the Catholic position on Plan B – a commentator submitted the following rejoinder: “Yes Pesci, if Plan B is ineffective once ovulation has started then the RC Hospitals who require a test today for ovulation before administering the drug are just being silly in their opposition.”

To which I replied: Applying the strictures of Pascal’s wager to the problem, it is not the Catholic Church that should retreat from its position IF — big “if” — a victory on your part should violate both the canon law of the church and First Amendment (religious) rights. The problem, if there is a problem, can be solved in a way that does not violate either. By the way, did the relevant committee ask any of its expert testifiers precisely how many rape victims, turned away by Catholic hospitals, could not receive the Plan B in other places? That figure should figure in any legislative attempt to force Catholic hospitals to violate their church’s legal strictures.”

Another commentator offered this remark: “When 90% of even Catholics think a raped woman should be quickly given whatever she needs to avoid a pregnancy, yes, the proper place for a woman to receive Plan B is in the emergency room. Period. Catholic or non-Catholic hospital is not the issue. Having medical professionals promptly assist a rape victim is. I bet even Bishop Mansell won’t go on record saying that a woman, after being violently raped, should sit back, do nothing, and if impregnated go ahead and give birth to the rapist’s baby. Honestly, I’d like to hear him say it. This debate is all about ideology run amok. And yes, the government should simply legislate it out of the health-care profession.”

To which I responded: “You can frame the issue anyway you like; it’s a free country, though there are some who would like to make it less so. The proposed legislation, however, does not seek to check unreasonable ideologies. The practical effect of the legislation will be to force Catholic hospitals — not to mention the Catholics who work in them — to violate their consciences and to commit a crime against the cannon law of their church. That is not an ideological description; it is a precise description of what the bill will do. That is an extreme – not to mention unconstitutional – measure. A reasonable person, faced with such a Draconian solution to a problem that may not exist – the jury is yet out on that one – must ask himself: What is the problem precisely, and can it be settled by other means? I do not find anyone here asking or attempting to answer that question. If Dr. Davidoff’s assertions are accurate, we are on the point of forcing Catholics in this state to violate their consciences because they are unwilling to provide an “ineffective” medical prescription to rape victims. See the above entrée. Now, this sort of thing may disturb only a small number of Catholics in the state. But this is a matter that should not be settled by counting heads. It should be settled by using brainpower.”

This being Connecticut, where legislative brainpower most often is put in the service of special interests groups, the human services committee reported out a bill that is, quite literally, God awful, punishing to faithful Catholics -- those that follow the strictures of their church -- and possibly unconstitutional.

All in a day’s work.
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