Saturday, April 01, 2006

Plan B Returns

The disclaimer by Rep. Denise Merrill, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was hilarious. Merrill claimed that the provision smuggled into the state’s budget was “not aimed at Catholic hospitals.” The measure, which penalizes with a withdrawal of state funds hospitals that do not provide Plan B pills to rape victims, will adversely affect only those hospitals that, for religious reasons, do not dispense the pills to women who are pregnant or ovulating. That would be the state’s four Catholic hospitals.

The disclaimer was no less disingenuous than the measure itself. A bill forcing the staff of Catholic hospitals to violate religious precepts earlier had not been reported out of the appropriate Public Health Committee. A provision securing the same objective was quietly tucked into the Democrat budget plan, where it gestated until it was spotted by Rep. Ruth Fahrbach of Windsor, an eagle-eyed congresswoman known for reading bills closely. The single sentence section read: “"The sum of $5,000,000 appropriated to the Department of Social Services, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006, for hospital energy needs, shall only be given to hospitals providing full pharmaceutical services to victims of rape."

Should anyone think that the purpose of the measure was to punish Catholic Hospitals with a withdrawal of funds until the Catholic Church in Connecticut agreed to the unrestricted use of Plan B pills, they might be relieved to know that surreptitious line slipped into the budget is not, according to Appropriations co-chairwoman Denise Merrill, “aimed at Catholic hospitals. The debate was not about Catholic hospitals.”

Properly speaking, the bill is not aimed at hospitals at all. In adopting a policy that restricts use of the Plan B pill in hospitals only when a rape victim is pregnant or ovulating, the Catholic hospitals are observing religious precepts that govern abortion. Whether or not those precepts are or are not theologically mandated is a matter that should be decided by the church, not politicians. Both the bill that died in committee and the budget provision, both of which offend orthodox Catholics, are aimed at the Catholic Church. It is the Catholic Church, not the hospitals, that sets the policy these legislative acts seek to overthrow.

Even so, it takes a great deal of chutzpah to argue that the bill and the offensive budget provision are not “aimed” at orthodox Catholics because the provisions “cover all hospitals.” If the chairman and co-chairman of the Appropriations committee were to slip into a massive budget bill a provision withdrawing funds from all schools in Connecticut that permit students to wear headgear in classes, would they be surprised when Jews objected that the provision was invidious because it would discourage the use of yarmulkes in Yeshivas?

Now then, it is perfectly true, as Cardinal John Henry Newman says, “that there is no rule on earth to which there is not at least one exception.” The Catholic Church has laid down a series of rules governing abortion, which it regards as both a serious sin and a crime against cannon law, the penalty for which is excommunication.

Excommunication, because it involves a withdrawal of sacramental grace, is the most serious punishment meted out by the church. With respect to the application of its rules on abortion in Catholic hospitals, the church has made accommodations to its observances. While the church forbids hospitals from dispensing Plan B pills if they are used as aborticides, the staff in its hospitals has been instructed to make accommodations that include referrals to other hospitals when its staff cannot in good conscience provide Plan B pills to rape victims.

Applying Newman’s rule, there may be occasions when the state should intervene to require a church to observe a law. Justice involves an impartial weighing of rights, which is why lady justice is often shown blindfolded carrying a scale in her hand. If a woman is impregnated by a rapist, she should be able to obtain aborticides if she wishes. What is it, in the present procedures in Catholic hospitals, that prevent the rape victim from receiving effective aborticides? Where there are timely referrals – Plan B is effective for 72 hours after conception – there can be no attempt to prevent abortion.

A bill requiring first responders to advise rape victims that Catholic hospitals will not dispense Plan B if the victim is pregnant or ovulating would not offend Catholic conscience; nor would such a bill require the state to force a church to violate its religious precepts.

But this was not the bill first offered to meet the needs of rape victims; and this is not the provision that the Appropriation committee chairman and co-chairman smuggled into the Democrat’s bloated budget. The Plan B bill and the budget provision were designed to punish the Catholic Church and to satisfy insatiable abortion rights activists.

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