Rape Victims, Pregnancy and Catholic Hospitals

By Manson, Jamie L. | National Catholic Reporter, September 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Rape Victims, Pregnancy and Catholic Hospitals


Manson, Jamie L., National Catholic Reporter


Although I am loath to talk about something as traumatizing and violent as rape as if it were an ideological issue, given the national conversation taking place about abortion in cases of rape and incest, it is important to continue the conversation in the pages of NCR.

As much as Missouri Rep. Todd Akin has been vilified for his now-infamous lesson on "legitimate rape," at some level we must be grateful for his lack of an internal filter. His candor has shone light on others' convictions.

The Republican Party approved a platform calling for a constitutional ban on abortion that makes no exceptions for rape or incest. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said recently that abortion should be illegal "regardless of the method of conception." Presidential nominee Mitt Romney told CBS News that he is "in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother," but his position has not been that clear through his campaign.

Catholics who like to profess their ideas about abortion in the case of rape would do well to consult with Catholics who actually deal, often on a daily basis, with women who are victims of rape. A great starting point would be those who work in trauma units in Catholic hospitals.

In their invaluable "Special Report: Emergency Contraception," the Catholic Health Association takes on the topic of emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault. It does an excellent job of debunking the myth that emergency contraception medication like Plan B is an abortifacient. A closer look at the U.S. bishop's "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" suggests that even the U.S. bishops support the use of "medications" for victims of rape that seem to work in precisely the same way that Plan B does:

  Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who
  is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should
  cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person
  psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical
  information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend
  herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If,
  after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has
  occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would
  prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization.

Although the bishops never name specific medications, it is Plan B that can "prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization." The bishops and many anti-abortion proponents have argued that Plan B also makes the lining of the uterus inhospitable to the implantation of a fertilized egg, which is why they believe it acts as an abortifacient.

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