Bishop Rules out Post-Rape Pills in Peoria: Fear of Abortion Cited

By Edwards, Robin T. | National Catholic Reporter, March 11, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Bishop Rules out Post-Rape Pills in Peoria: Fear of Abortion Cited


Edwards, Robin T., National Catholic Reporter


Fear of abortion cited, while its critics claim rule punishes victims

A Catholic hospital in Illinois is currently revising its protocol for treating rape victims, following a directive from Peoria Bishop John Myers banning the use of "morning after" pills.

Myers told the eight Catholic hospitals in his diocese that the two drugs, Estinyl and Ovral, could no longer be used because, he said, they have potential abortifacient capabilities. St. Francis Medical Center, the second-largest medical facility in the state, is the only Catholic hospital in Peoria that uses the drugs.

The fear is that the rape victim may have already been impregnated and that the drugs would not act as contraceptives but would terminate the life of a developing embryo.

"Our issue is with certain kinds of hormonal treatments which prevent ... the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall," Myers said. "We believe profoundly that any medical procedure (which leads to abortion) is incorrect." St. Francis will continue to use these drugs until it can develop a new procedure, which is expected in the next couple of weeks, said Chris Lofgren, the hospital spokesman. As the only Level I trauma center in the area, St. Francis treats a majority of the rape victims locally.

The hospitals were informed of the bishop's directive last November. St. Francis was given until last month to adopt a new policy - a deadline the hospital did not meet.

Lofgren said St. Francis is faced with the complex task of "trying to balance" what's in the best interests of patient care with what's being mandated by the bishop.

The bishop of each diocese has the final authority to set such policies, Lofgren said, adding that St. Francis hospital supports the Myers decision. "We don't apologize for being Catholic," he said.

Meanwhile, Myers' directive has prompted many adverse letters to the editor in the local daily newspaper. Many complain that the new policy is "victimizing the victim," who, they say, should have every option available.

"It's a horrendous decision," Joyce Harant, executive director of Planned Parenthood in Peoria, told NCR. "I think the state of Illinois should consider whether an emergency room can do this."

Linda Woods, director of InnerStrength, Peoria's Center for Prevention of Abuse sexual-assault department, said that a majority of the rape victims in the past have opted to take advantage of these drugs. "We are now exploring other ways the medication can be made available to them," she noted.

Last year, the hospital, which serves a 17-county area, treated 58 rape victims.

The ovulation factor

Determining whether a rape victim is ovulating or not seems a key factor in the ongoing discussions. "It is now just guesstimate," said Msgr. Steven Rohlfs, a moral theologian who spearheaded the diocese's two-year study examining the use of these two drugs.

He said St. Francis is trying to develop a procedure to determine more precisely whether a woman is in the preovulatory stage.

The customary practice of asking the victim about her menstrual history is scientifically inappropriate and completely unreliable, according to Dr. Eugene Diamond, clinical professor of pediatrics at Loyola University School of Medicine in Chicago.

As part of the two-year study, Diamond prepared a questionnaire asking medical experts nationwide to give their opinion on how Estinyl and Ovral work. He said 19 out of 20 experts concurred that these drugs - given to rape victims in the standard two doses - do not suppress ovulation.

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