NCBC Statement on Connecticut Legislation
Regarding Treatment for Victims of Sexual Assault
October 3, 2007
Recently the Bishops of Connecticut permitted a protocol in Catholic hospitals for the treatment of victims of sexual assault. This action on the part of the Connecticut bishops received national attention and requires some commentary. This is a complex moral matter and does not lend itself to brief explanation. This difficulty was rendered all the worse by inaccurate reporting and inappropriate, indeed misleading, terminology.
Catholic hospitals have always provided contraception for the victims of sexual assault. This was usually done with a medication or medications which would prevent ovulation. If an egg is not released from the ovary, the victim cannot become pregnant. There was a difficulty here, however, because some medications appear to have a negative effect on the lining of the womb that might prevent an implantation of a new human embryo if one is engendered as a result of the assault. This would amount to an early medical abortion that would not be allowed.
In light of these facts, two protocols were generally developed and approved by bishops. One protocol allowed for no use of a medication for contraceptive purposes because it might have an abortive effect.
Another more commonly used protocol tried to take into account the variety of circumstances surrounding a sexual assault in such a way as to allow the use of a contraceptive medication – if it truly worked as a contraceptive.
The document concludes:
In matters that have not yet been decided definitively by the Holy See, The National Catholic Bioethics Center has refrained from adopting one or another position on a disputed question. However, in the matter of protocols for sexual assault, there is virtual unanimity that an ovulation test should be administered before giving an anovulant medication. The protocol the NCBC has supported requires the ovulation test because it provides greater medical and moral certitude that the intervention will have its desired anovulatory effect. The NCBC objects strongly to state mandates, such as those passed by Connecticut and Massachusetts, that do not allow health care professionals and facilities to exercise their best medical judgment and which do not protect the consciences of all parties. We also object to state mandates that do not allow the victim of sexual assault to have all the information necessary for a medical intervention so that she might make an informed judgment. However, the NCBC understands the judgment of the Connecticut bishops that the administration of a contraceptive medication in the absence of an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act. However, it is immoral to violate one’s conscience, including the corporate consciences of health care agencies, and the unwillingness of the state to allow an exemption of conscience makes the law unjust and onerous.