WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Connecticut bishops' decision to permit emergency contraception for rape victims at Catholic hospitals in the state without requiring an ovulation test is prompting a firestorm of criticism.
The criticism focuses on what the emergency contraception marketed as Plan B actually does and on whether church institutions should allow the state to mandate what services it provides.
On both those issues, the Connecticut bishops and hospital leaders who announced the decision in a joint statement Sept. 27 could have used more help from church leaders at the national and international level, Father John P. Gatzak, director of communications for the Hartford Archdiocese, told Catholic News Service Oct. 11.
"The church in Connecticut would have had a greater opportunity to resist" the state law that took effect Oct. 1 if there had been definitive statements on Plan B from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and/or the Vatican, Father Gatzak said.
The Connecticut bishops still consider the law "seriously flawed" and believe it should be changed, he said.
In a joint statement with leaders of Catholic hospitals in the state, the bishops said, "Since the teaching authority of the church has not definitively resolved this matter and since there is serious doubt about how Plan B pills work, ... Catholic hospitals in the state may follow protocols that do not require an ovulation test in the treatment of victims of rape.
"If it becomes clear that Plan B pills would lead to an early chemical abortion in some instances, this matter would have to be reopened," they added.
Plan B, containing a high dose of birth control pills, usually prevents pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It is available over the counter to women over 18 in the United States and has long been available to victims of rape at Catholic hospitals nationwide, following a pregnancy test and an ovulation test.
Use of the ovulation test is specifically banned in the Connecticut law.
But Father Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, and other critics of the decision believe the bishops erred both in their understanding of Plan B and in agreeing to comply with an unjust state law.
"Acts of blatant coercion of Catholic consciences are already far advanced and will only continue unless the church is willing to stand up and rebuke the arrogance of these coercive measures and carve out strict realms of conscience which are unreachable by activist courts and corrupt politicians," said Father Euteneuer in a commentary on the decision.
Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, put it more bluntly: "The devil wins in Connecticut."
Mary Ann Kreitzer, president of the Catholic Media Coalition, called on the Connecticut bishops to rescind their decision in an Oct. 4 letter. It was co-signed by nearly two dozen members of the Virginia-based group, which includes "Catholic writers, webmasters, editors and others engaged in producing media for and about the Catholic Church," according to its Web site.
"It is a grave scandal to have Catholic bishops approve the use of the abortion drug," they said. "Their capitulation encourages further coercion by the government against the church."
The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia said in an Oct. 3 statement that the Connecticut law is flawed because it contains state mandates that do not allow for a physician's best medical judgment, do not protect the conscience of individuals or institutions and do not allow rape victims to have all the information they need to decide whether they want emergency contraception.
"The NCBC understands the judgment of the Connecticut bishops that the administration of a contraception medication in the absence of an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act," the statement said. "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."
The state's bishops and hospital leaders said the use of Plan B pills for rape victims "cannot be judged to be the commission of an abortion because of such doubt about how Plan B pills and similar drugs work and because of the current impossibility of knowing from the ovulation test whether a new life is present."
But critics disagree, citing an October 2001 document of the Pontifical Academy for Life that said, "From the ethical standpoint, the same absolute unlawfulness of abortifacient procedures also applies to distributing, prescribing and taking the morning-after pill."
"The Vatican did not need to invent any new teaching on the Plan B pills because these pills fall into the category of abortifacient contraception, pure and simple," Father Euteneuer said. "The consistent teaching of our church on abortion applies here."
Kreitzer also believes the issue is settled. "The way Plan B and other abortifacient 'contraceptives' work is well-known," she said. "As a natural family planning teacher and crisis pregnancy counselor, I've been explaining it to women for years.
"While one doesn't know the mode of action in a particular case, it is certain that many babies are killed when these drugs turn the womb into a hostile environment," Kreitzer added.
Father Gatzak said "a lot of people are ignoring the fact" that although the bishops said Catholic hospitals would comply with the law, "that doesn't mean they think it is a good law" or that they won't continue to work to change it.
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops