Emergency Contraception

The Catholic Church affirms that "marriage and married love are by their character ordained to the procreation and the bringing up of children" (Humanae Vitae, no. 9). However, "to force the use of marriage on one’s partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in that matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order" (Humanae Vitae, no. 13).

Likewise, as the Catholic Catechism recognizes when discussing offenses against the 6th commandment, rape "is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person" and "an intrinsically evil act" (no. 2356). By implication, sexual assault cannot be considered ordered to the unitive and procreative functions.

mind, body soul written in the sandThus, according to the U.S. Catholic Bishops in their Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a woman "who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault" (Directive 36). She is not obliged when raped, as would be the case in consensual relations, to accommodate the natural potential for conception. The forced introduction of sperm is an act of aggression she may resist even through means that prevent the creation of new life. That explains why Catholic hospitals may distribute contraceptives in some rape cases, particularly within 24 hours after the assault.  Immediate care is essential as well to address issues related to the transmission of venereal disease and for appropriate and compassionate trauma counseling.

However, if it is determined that a particular rape treatment would "have as [its] purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation" of an embryo (Directive 36), a Catholic facility cannot offer it. A human life conceived by rape is not an act of aggression but a new person innocent of any wrongdoing. Some contraceptives may act as abortifacients by preventing implantation. Forcing Catholic hospitals to offer contraceptives in rape cases when an early abortion may result conflicts with the religious and ethical duty to do no harm.

MCC Legislative Action

See Testimony on A Bill Concerning Emergency Contraception (pdf), April, 2005.  

See Testimony Regarding Emergency Contraception Mandate (pdf),  June, 2003.