"Emergency Contraceptives" are multiple-dose oral contraceptives taken after intercourse. The pills have at least four possible mechanisms: (1) suppressing ovulation, (2) altering cervical mucus to hinder the transport of sperm, (3) slowing the transport of the ovum and (4) inhibiting implantation of the newly conceived human embryo. Which of these mechanisms is operative depends on when the pills are taken. If taken before ovulation, EC may delay or inhibit ovulation, thereby preventing conception. If taken after the LH surge which triggers ovulation, EC will not disrupt ovulation in that cycle, but can inhibit implantation of the developing embryo.1
Treatment of Victims of Sexual Assault
Victims of sexual assault should be treated with compassion and understanding. Health care providers who treat sexual assault victims should provide medically accurate information and offer spiritual and psychological support.
A woman who has been raped should be able to defend herself from a potential conception and receive treatments to suppress ovulation and incapacitate sperm. If conception has occurred, however, a Catholic hospital will not dispense drugs to interfere with implantation of a newly conceived human embryo.2
Hospitals should develop appropriate protocols to determine whether administering emergency contraception would have an abortifacient effect. Tests are available to determine whether ovulation has occurred.3
Laws Mandating the Administration of "Emergency Contraception" To Rape Victims
The proposed federal "Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act" (S. 1240, H.R. 464) and similar legislation in the states would force all hospitals, even hospitals with pro-life policies, to administer drugs which can act as abortifacients to rape victims. The federal bill would also require hospitals to provide the pills to teenagers who engage in consensual intercourse in violation of state laws on statutory rape. Additionally, the bill requires health care providers to misinform women about how emergency contraception works, violating norms for informed consent. Specifically, the bill mandates that hospitals tell women that "emergency contraception" is not abortifacient.
The law should not require hospitals to administer so-called "emergency contraception" when those drugs will end the life of a newly conceived human embryo. Hospitals can offer rape victims treatments that are truly contraceptive and address their other needs with compassion and respect.
- See, e.g., C. Kahlenborn et al., "Postfertilization Effect of Hormonal Emergency Contraception," 36 The Annals of Pharmacology 465 ( March 2002); J. Wilks, "The Impact of the Pill on Implantation Factors – New Research Findings," 16 Ethics & Medicine 15-22 (2000); K. Moore and T. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th ed. (2003), 56; W. Larimore and J. Stanford, "Postfertilization Effects of Oral Contraceptives and Their Relationship to Informed Consent," 9 Archives of Family Medicine 126-133 (2000).
- See Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 4th Edition, ¶36 (June 2001), /bishops/directives.shtml.
- For a thorough discussion of such testing protocols see P. Cataldo and A. Moraczewski (eds.), Catholic Health Care Ethics: A Manual for Ethics Committees (National Catholic Bioethics Center 2001), Chapter 11 ("Pregnancy Prevention After Sexual Assault").