Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Catholic World News News Feature

Analysis: 'emergency contraception' and the betrayal of Catholic principles in Boston (updated) December 16, 2008

A young woman calls a hospital emergency room, to ask if the staff will dispense an abortifacient pill to a rape victim. The response: "No, we don't do that, you know we're a Catholic hospital."

That, according to the Boston Globe, was "an illegal answer."

The Globe explains that under Massachusetts law, all hospitals are required to provide the "morning-after" pill on request to women who report that they have been raped. To test compliance with the law, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts had someone call 70 emergency rooms around the state, to ask if the pill was available. It was, in 68 cases. But two hospitals-- both affiliates of the Caritas Christi Health Care chain which is operated by the Boston archdiocese-- said they would not furnish the pill. So the Globe story carried the headline: "In survey, Caritas hospitals gave illegal answer."

Actually only two of the Caritas hospitals provided that answer. The Globe does not disclose how many Caritas institutions were included in the survey. Caritas Christi responded to the story with a statement affirming that all of its affiliates should comply with the Massachusetts law.

This Globe story exposes layer upon layer of the corruption that infects what was once a solidly Catholic community in Boston. Consider:

  1. Massachusetts law does indeed require hospitals to dispense the "morning-after" pill to rape victims. The law passed through the legislature without serious opposition, despite the fact that a majority of lawmakers identify themselves as Catholics.
  2. The Caritas Christi hospitals are complying with the law, despite the fact that the "morning-after" pill causes abortions. Last week's new Vatican instruction on bioethics confirmed that the use of this pill is "gravely immoral."
  3. When two Catholic-hospital employees said that they could not fulfill an immoral request, they quickly became the targets of a pro-abortion publicity campaign, abetted by the region's most powerful media outlet.
  4. Worse, their employers at a Catholic health-care institution, rather than applauding the employees for showing sound moral judgment, conceded that their answers had violated corporate policy. Emergency-room personnel who followed Catholic ethical principles were put on notice that their Church-owned employer would not support them.
  5. The "survey" that formed the basis for the Globe story was done by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts: a group with an obvious vested interest in the issue. Yet the Globe accepted and promulgated the results of that unscientific survey without question or critical comment.
  6. The NARAL researcher "posed as a rape-crisis counselor" when calling emergency rooms, the Globe discloses. In other words the researcher deliberately misled the survey subjects. Both NARAL and the Globe skip over the ethical questions raised by such a "research" project.

UPDATE Jeff Mirus reminds me that after he wrote on the questionable morality of administering the Plan B pill to rape victims in an excellent 2007 column, a reader with a special knowledge of the topic called his attention to some new studies that suggest the "morning-after" pill might not have an abortifacient effect. The evidence is apparently sketchy, and clearly calls for more research. If the pill does not cause the destruction of a fertilized ovum--that is, an abortion--then it may be justifiable to dispense it to rape victims. But the manufacturer claims that the pill does have that effect (although the manufacturer refuses to recognize it as abortion). Since we lack any sort of medical expertise, we are in no position to judge the competing claims here. But this much seems obvious: If Catholic institutions believe that their policies are justified because the morning-after pill is not abortifacient, they have a moral obligation to explain that reasoning, so that the general public does not conclude that they are flouting Church teaching. To date that has not been done.

UPDATE #2Several readers have written to say that I am being inconsistent when I criticize the NARAL researcher for pretending to be a rape-crisis counselor, when CWN has given favorable coverage to pro-life activists who have used similar sorts of subterfuge in "sting" operations to expose misconduct at Planned Parenthood. Point taken. If we can do it, they can do it, and I should not have criticized NARAL on that score. Still it is legitimate to criticize the Globe for taking the NARAL "research" at face value. A Globe reporter who deliberately misled his interview subjects would probably be fired, and rightly so; that sort of advocacy journalism has no place in the newsroom of a major metropolitan daily.