US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A bitter pill? German bishops take a bold step in allowing emergency contraception

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

As the Catholic bishops in the United States continue to fight for their religious liberty by arguing that opposition to all artificial contraception is a deeply held belief of the Catholic faith, the German Catholic bishops have gone in the opposite direction, announcing they will now allow Catholic hospitals to give the "morning after" pill to rape victims.

As Reuters reports:

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said a four-day meeting of German bishops in the western town of Trier had "confirmed that women who have been victims of rape will get the proper human, medical, psychological and pastoral care".

"That can include medication with a 'morning-after pill' as long as this has a prophylactic and not an abortive effect," he said in a statement. "Medical and pharmaceutical methods that induce the death of an embryo may still not be used."

This means the German bishops are drawing a distinction between contraceptives that prevent pregnancy and those that might halt the development of an already fertilized egg. That distinction maintains the church's teaching that human life begins at the moment of conception, but is a departure from the church's belief that any artificial means of preventing pregnancy is immoral.

The German bishops' decision stems from a case in which a woman was denied treatment at a German Catholic hospital after being drugged at a party and raped. The bishops had to wade through some complex questions here, such as whether taking artificial steps to prevent pregnancy--which some see as God's will, even in rape cases--is ever morally justified. Their conclusion that it is an acknowledgement of the fact that contraception may not be as much of a black and white issue as some Catholics would believe.

I don't expect the German bishops' decision to be the tidal wave that changes the church's stance on contraception. But it certainly is a ripple in the ocean that will get people talking. I'm sure that many Catholics would like to see the issue brought up for a serious debate in the global church, even if that discussion doesn't seem to fit the agenda of the U.S. bishops.

Flickr image cc by stromnessdundee