Can anyone be forced to act against his conscience? Do religious convictions have any weight in the law? How far can the courts go to make a person do an act that he believes is unethical or immoral?
I hope these questions are not ignored due to the sensationalism that surrounds emergency contraception.
The Catholic Bishops of Connecticut have decided to allow the doctors in Emergency Rooms at the Catholic hospitals in their State to prescribe Plan B for rape victims. (More here.) The courts had ruled that the hospitals would be required to follow state law mandating that all emergency rooms prescribe the pills, even those belonging to religious organizations which object to contraception and abortion.
The law requiring all hospitals to prescribe Plan B to rape victims, which passed in June and takes effect Monday, does not allow for an ovulation test. Instead, it requires a pregnancy test.
Barry Feldman, a spokesman for the Connecticut Catholic Conference, said that since the bill passed, the bishops have questioned the feasibility of the original policy because of “further revelation by them about the state of existing science and the lack of definitive teaching by the church and the fact that there are many who are affiliated with the church that believe the ovulation test isn’t necessary.”
Feldman said the bishops’ decision to allow Plan B to be used for all rape victims in the hospitals does not mean that the bishops’ personal beliefs have changed. Also, they still believe the law is seriously flawed and should be changed to allow an ovulation test.
In June, Bridgeport Bishop William E. Lori said the new law violated religious liberties and suggested that politicians might force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or euthanasia.
Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, who worked to negotiate a compromise bill with the church, said lawmakers have no interest in taking such steps.
“Our efforts had only one goal, to protect the victims of rape,” he said. “There was no other agenda. It was started to just do that.”
Rape crisis counselors in Connecticut said there have been unclear and inconsistent policies for supplying Plan B to victims who seek treatment in emergency rooms across the state, including some in nonreligious hospitals.
According to Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services Inc., 40 percent of rape victims were not offered or did not receive the full dose of emergency contraception at the hospitals where they were treated during the first half of 2006.
Plan B, a package of pills containing levonorgestril, a progesterone, is also called “the morning after pill.”
My review, “Plan B, How It Works and Doesn’t Work,” with links to reliable information and research papers, is here.
It appears that the bishops aren’t just caving in to legal pressure, but were convinced that the pill works, when it works, by delaying ovulation or keeping the sperm from getting to the oocyte. There is quite a bit of evidence that this is true and none (from some pretty good studies in animals and ovulating women) that the Plan B formulation prevents implantation or causes an implanted embryo to be aborted.
The biggest problem now is that the courts in Connecticut dared to over-rule a religious principle and conscience issue in the first place. At what point can the state force men and women to act against their consciences?