In my prior post, I mentioned that I've received multiple requests for comment on the Connecticut Plan B situation. The following reader expresses the sentiments of many when he writes:
What is going on in Connecticut right now? The Bishops there have released a statement, explaining that they will now allow Plan B to be administered in their hospitals...where they previously stated (or implied) otherwise. Curt Jester & American Papist have coverage on this, but I just don't understand the issue.
Specifically, why is contraception allowed after rape (since it's sex without the proper intent etc etc) but is NOT permitted after casual, recreational sex that also lacks the proper intent?
It's understandable, given the Church's strong stand against contraception and abortion, why this issue would be so confusing. In order to make sense of it, we need to look at several things, but first
THE BIG RED DISCLAIMER: What I am about to write is not indicative of my own view. I'm trying to explain the apparent reasoning of the Connecticut bishops. I'm not saying that they are correct or incorrect. Rome could rule either way on this, and it may well get involved. What I'm trying to do is explain a position, not defend it.
The starting point to understanding the apparent reasoning behind the Connecticut bishops' statement is a close reading of Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae. Here's the key line in Latin:
Item quivis respuendus est actus, qui, cum coniugale commercium vel praevidetur vel efficitur vel ad suos naturales exitus ducit, id tamquam finem obtinendum aut viam adhibendam intendat, ut procreatio impediatur.
Now, I've given this in Latin so that you can see the key term coniugale commercium. Coniugale means "conjugal/marital/pertaining to or proper to marriage." Commercium means "commerce/traffic/relations/intercourse/sexual intercourse."
You could translate this literally as "conjugal intercourse," "conjugal relations," "marital intercourse," "marital relations"--things of that nature.
Which is how this passage is translated when it's quoted in the Catechism:
2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil
Unfortunately, some translators are sloppy in how they handle this text (which is particularly unfortunate, since it's a key text in a sensitive document). For example, the English translation of HV on the Vatican web site renders this:
Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.
That's a loosey-goosey translation, and if you go with that one, what the Connecticut bishops said will be absolutely inexplicable, since the use of Plan B to prevent ovulation or fertilization clearly would be "specifically intended to prevent procreation . . . as an end . . . after sexual intercourse" (rearranging the elements of the quote a bit).
But that's not what the Latin original says. It doesn't say "sexual intercourse," it says "conjugal intercourse" and "conjugal" means "marital."
Paul VI phrased himself very carefully in this area, and what he did was say that you can't use contraception to thwart the procreative aspect of marital intercourse. His language does not explicitly address the issue of the procreative aspect of intercourse outside of marriage.
Of course, intercourse outside of marriage always involves grave sin to begin with, and it seems reasonable to conclude that if contraception in marriage is an evil, contraception outside of marriage only compounds the evil of non-marital sex. One day the pope or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may clarify that this is indeed the case.
But this goes beyond what can be shown from the language of HV. The way HV is phrased in the original Latin (and in the literal translation of the passage given in the Catechism), all you can say with certainty is that Paul VI condemned all use of contraception within marriage.
He did not address--or cannot be ascertained certainly as addressing--the situation of sexual relations outside of marriage.
Thus, some have held that at least some forms of contraception (ones that aren't abortifacient, for example) might not compound the evil of non-marital sex. Some might argue that, although non-marital sexual acts are gravely wrong, contraceptive non-marital sex might be less gravely wrong than non-contraceptive non-marital sex since it has a lesser risk of bringing a child into the world outside of wedlock.
By divine law, children have a right to be conceived only within a family that has a father and a mother who are married to each other. To the extent that they may cause children to be conceived outside of wedlock, non-marital sexual acts can be viewed as grave sins against charity regarding the child that may be conceived, as well as other affected parties (such as innocent spouses).
In case of rape, one pursuing this line of argument might maintain, there is no sin in the victim using at least certain forms of contraception since the victim is not married to the rapist (apart from cases of marital rape) and did not consent to the sexual act.
Thus the U. S. bishops Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (4th ed.) states:
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. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum [n. 36].
The issue of non-marital contraception is a theological hot potato that the Holy See will eventually have to sort out, because this issue is not going to go away, as the situation of the Connecticut state law illustrates.
But if--and note the "if"--the Church ended up endorsing the view that contraception is impermissible within marriage but potentially permissible outside it then it would allow for a variety of situations, such as:
Nuns in dangerous situations where they may be raped could use at least some forms of contraception
Women who have been raped could be given at least some forms of contraception
I'm not defending these views. I'm just pointing out that they are not expressly precluded by the language used in Humanae Vitae or, to my knowledge, by subsequent Magisterial documents.
You might find the above line of reasoning entirely implausible, but I'm not advocating it. I'm merely trying to help with the "What on earth are they thinking?" factor of this situation.
If you are of the opinion that the above views are wrong, you might well conclude that the Holy Spirit will prevent the Church from ever endorsing such views and that he may guide the Church into a clear-cut rejection of those views.
But that has not yet occurred, at least in Magisterial documents that I am aware of.
In fact--and this is pure speculation and should not be taken as anything other than the pointing out of a possibility--the Connecticut bishops may even have consulted with the CDF for advice about how to handle this issue.
That leaves the question of whether the policy they announced is a good one, and, speaking only for myself, I can only say that I find the announced policy to be troubling.
There are disputed claims about whether Plan B will prevent the implantation of a newly-conceived child. The manufacturer's own label for the product (see links to American Papist and Curt Jester) say that it may have this effect. Legal disclaimers of this nature are notoriously broad--in order to prevent future lawsuits--and they frequently list potential outcomes for the use of drugs that are either not possible with the drug in question or which are very unlikely. Because of this kind of language in medical disclaimers, as well as a lack of knowledge about how Plan B actually works, there is ambiguity about whether or not it is abortifacient.
That ambiguity is what generates a lot of the tension within the Connecticut bishops' statement, and it is one of the things that I find troubling about the whole situation.
I'm far from being an expert on Plan B, but any time there is a possibility that something is abortifacient, I want to apply the Deerhunter Principle: If you're out in the woods hunting, you cannot open fire if the result is reasonably foreseen to involve the possible death of a human.