C Rulon: Roman Catholic Church and Emergency Contraception‏

By | July 25, 2011

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College

Every year in the U.S. over three million unin­tended preg­nancies occur. About 1.3 million end in abor­tions. But with emergency contraceptive pills (EC) taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex the number of un­intended pregnan­cies might actually be cut in half. Thus, the wide­spread easy availability of EC could consti­tute one of the most important advances in birth control in the last 40 years.[i]

Yet, there remains strong religious opposition to EC, mostly from the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican long ago created its own pict­ure of re­ality with all sex being designed by Nature/God for repro­duction in marriage. Any form of sex that does not end in the possibility of pregnancy is, according to the Church, “unnatural, disor­dered and immoral.” The Church’s immense power, coupled with its teach­ings on con­tra­ception, abortion, ho­mo­sexuality and sex in general have strongly influenced the leaders and rulers of entire nations for cen­turies.

A 1991 report by Dr. R. Ravenholt, former director of the Glo­bal Popu­la­tion Pro­gram of the U.S. Agency for In­ter­national Devel­op­ment (1966-1979), said:

“…The current code of si­lence with re­s­pect to iden­ti­fy­ing the main adversary of repro­duc­tive free­dom, the Roman Catholic Church, is fo­men­ting a world disaster analo­gous in scope to that which would have ensued if leaders had fail­ed to identify Rus­sia as the main adversary of demo­cra­tic politi­cal free­dom.”

Ravenholt went on to detail how Catholic bishops and Catholic presidential appointees plan­­ned and largely achieved the sabotage of a num­ber of U.S. family planning programs.[ii]

U.S. bishops continue to be vocal and consistent oppo­nents of EC (plus being opposed to all domestic and inter­national fam­ily planning programs). Also, Vatican officials have aggres­sively used their Church’s of­ficial govern­mental sta­tus (which no other reli­gion has) to block pro­grams and poli­cies that would make contra­cep­tion and EC more ac­cessible in the poor­er parts of the world.

For example:

1994: The third major Overpopu­la­tion and Develop­­­ment Con­fer­ence was held in Cairo, Egypt. Be­cause of the unrelent­ing political efforts of the Catholic Church, the con­fer­ence became bogged down over the role that EC and early abortions should play in fam­ily plan­ning and female repro­ductive health issues. Only a seri­ous watering down of the pro-choice posi­­tion allowed the con­fer­ence to finally con­tinue. “God’s laws are abso­lute,” maintained the Pope. “They cannot be changed by a vote.”[iii]

1998: The Vatican attempted to stop the distribution of EC to those Bos­nian women in Kosovar refu­gee camps who had just been bru­tally raped and had already lost every­thing, including their loved ones. Arch­bishop Flynn referred to those aid workers offering EC to raped women as perpe­tra­tors of vio­lence.[iv]

2007: Leaders of Amnesty Inter­nat­io­nal, a global human rights organi­zation, sup­ported the right of those women in Darfur refuge camps who were brutally gang raped to have access to EC and early abortions. In response, the Vatican sus­pen­d­ed all financial aid to Amnesty International and called upon Catho­lics world­wide to boycott the organization.[v]

Today, there are some 600 Catholic hos­pitals in the U.S. servicing about 50 million patients a year. One-sixth of all admit­tances are to Catholic hospitals. About 80% of these hos­pitals don’t offer EC to those rape victims who are admitted, nor refer them to hospitals that do supply EC. Doctors at Catholic hospitals are often over-ruled by bishops. In recent years a growing number of non-sectarian hospitals and HMOs have been taken over by Catholic health organi­za­tions.[vi]

In addition, the Roman Catholic Church has made it clear that if any govern­men­tal agency attempts to force any of the Church’s over 300,000 health facili­ties for the poor to offer contra­cep­tives, steri­lization proced­ures or EC, the Church would with­draw its vitally need­ed financial sup­port from those fa­cili­ties.

Some final thoughts

Today, most American and Euro­pean Catho­lics pay little atten­tion to their Church’s birth control prohi­bi­tions and are us­ing mod­ern means of con­tra­­cep­tion and EC in about the same mea­sure as are Protes­tant and Jewish couples. Also, as early as 1979 a major poll found that 64% of all Cath­olics felt that the “right of a woman to have an abortion should be left entirely to the woman and her doc­tor.” And by the late 1980s Cath­o­­lic women in the U.S. were actually having abor­tions at a slightly higher rate than were Pro­tes­tants.

Yet, the Vatican continues to insist that we can’t believe in social justice if we also believe in abortion. But since most birth control is far from perfect and humans will always make mistakes, where is the social justice in forcing women to stay pregnant against their will? Where is it written that God wants women to be unwill­ing embryo incubators, obligatory breed­ing machines? Where is the religious wisdom and social justice in placing women in a permanently subor­dinate position to men and essentially in repro­ductive bondage to the state?

The ability of women to have re­productive control over their own bod­ies has long been an essential goal in the never-ending battle for global fe­male equality, stronger families and reduced poverty and disease. To quote Claire Short, a Roman Catholic and former Inter­na­tional De­velopment Secretary for the United King­dom:

“My church is playing a deeply obstructive role where, if it had its way [regarding contraceptives and abortions], a mil­lion more people would get the HIV virus, there would be more and more un­wanted pregnan­cies, more and more illegal abor­tions, and more and more mothers dying as a result of il­legal abor­tions. That is the position they are trying to work for. And it’s a morally destruc­tive course.”


[i]EC was finally approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1999 for women 18 and over with a doctor’s prescription. In 2006 it became available without a prescription and in 2009 the age was dropped to 17. Girls under 17 can obtain a prescription. In France EC is dispensed to high school girls by the school nurse. See
[ii] http://www.population-security.org/rave-91-03.htm ; www.population-security.org/liew-92-03.htm
[iii] For example, see http://www.seechange.org/media/ms%20magazine%2010%2099.htm
[iv] For example, see http://www.seechange.org/media/a%20callous%20and%20coercive%20policy.htm
[v] For example, see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/amnesty-to-defy-catholic-church-over-rape-victims-abortion-rights-461358.html
[vi]See Rob Boston’s article, “Medical Emergency: Catholic Hospitals Usurp Patient’s Rights” in The Humanist (March-April 2011). One organization fighting Catholic hospital mergers is Merger Watch (www.mergerwatch.org).

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