Sunday, March 05, 2006

Plan B vs. Plan A

“Malloy said that he was sensitive to the religious freedom issue but that emergency contraceptives are designed to prevent conception, not cause a chemically induced abortion.”

This sunburst was teased out of Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat gubernatorial contender, by a reporter who then wrote a story under the title “Rivals Blast Rell Stance: Catholic Hospitals, Rape Victims At Issue.”

The “emergency contraceptive” in question, called Plan B, is described by its producer as a backup method for preventing pregnancy when ordinary contraceptives fail, and the reporter helpfully explained that “Emergency contraceptives are a high-dose birth control pill that can reduce the risk of pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.”

Plan B, some Connecticut legislators feel, ought to be adopted by every hospital in the state, including Connecticut’s four Catholic hospitals, and the pending bill that would enforce the use of Plan B has created some consternation within the Catholic community, because Catholics, if they are not Malloy or New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, also a Democrat gubernatorial contender, or all of the state’s Catholic Congressional delegation, tend to follow their church’s precepts on abortion and contraception.

A bill that would force Connecticut’s four Catholic hospitals to provide Plan B to women who have been raped is now making its way through the legislative sausage maker.

Catholics and, until very recently, Governor Jodi Rell, an Episcopalian, were comfortable with what might be called Plan A. Under Plan A, a woman who had been raped and was in danger of being impregnated by her rapist could elect to take Plan B at a providing non-Catholic hospital. The emergency contraceptive reduces the risk of pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

Under current arrangements, Catholic hospitals presently offer Plan B pills to women who have been raped – except under very narrow circumstances, when urine tests show that the victim is pregnant or ovulating. In these cases, said a representative of the hospitals, the Plan B pills “can be equivalent to an abortion and thus the proposed law would violate the hospital’s religious freedom.”

The Catholic Church and, derivatively, Catholic institutions teach that both abortion and artificial birth control are moral evils. Both the teaching and practice of the church would be violated if the state legislature were to order its hospitals to allow the procuring of an abortion.

While it is true that Plan B pills are not aborticides like RU-486, the moral, legal and medical principles that the legislature must rely upon to force Catholic institutions to violate their religious precepts may also be used to force the same institutions to provide aborticides on request.

The Catholic Church’s view, rooted in science and not only theology, is that life is a natural process that begins at conception and ends at death. Abortion and euthanasia aggressively interfere with this process and are especially evil when they are not necessary. An abortion that occurs when a doctor is attempting to discharge the terms of his Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm” is not a sin. If an abortion occurs when the doctor is attempting to save both the life of the prospective mother and child, no offense has occurred.

The very first question the legislature should consider before it promulgates a law that well may be unconstitutional is the question of utility: Is Plan B necessary? Catholic hospitals regularly refer patients to other hospitals in the narrow cases cited above.

Is it necessary to force upon Catholics in Connecticut a law that does violence to their faith? Plan B is effective when taken within 72 hours of a rape. Connecticut is a state in which any hospital can be reached within 3 hours. Would it not be suitable to create a protocol in which first responders advised rape victims that Plan B was not available in Catholic hospitals?

There are practical considerations that may come into play as well: Politics involves the administration of the entire polis, which includes the welfare of churches and hospitals that operate under their aegis. If the enforcement of Plan B necessarily resulted in the closure of Connecticut’s four Catholic hospitals, would Malloy still favor the plan?

If Plan A can be mended, not ended, would the law forcing state Catholics to violate their consciences still be necessary?

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