German bishops OK contraception in rape cases

Contraceptives

Roman Catholic-run hospitals can prescribe limited emergency contraception to rape victims, German bishops said as they sought to contain fallout from an embarrassing recent case in which two hospitals refused to treat a woman.

In a statement issued at the end of a regular meeting in the western city of Trier, the German Bishops Conference said Catholic hospitals still can't provide drugs that would lead to the death of an embryo.

The German church was under pressure to clarify its stance after two Catholic hospitals in Cologne turned away a rape victim because of concerns over the pill. Cologne's archbishop, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, said last month that the church was "deeply ashamed by this incident because it goes against our Christian mission." At the end of January, Meisner said it was "justifiable" in such cases to provide drugs that prevent conception. He later said he had consulted with Pope Benedict XVI's secretary, Georg Gaenswein, and was told that "everything is alright."

For decades, Catholic hospitals have in cases of rape allowed the use of spermicidal wash to impede sperm from reaching an egg and drugs to prevent the victim from ovulating. The rationale is that rape is an act of violence against a woman; to prevent the attack from continuing, a hospital can use drugs to impede conception.

Church teaching, however, holds that life begins at conception, and thus forbids the use of drugs that would intercept, dislodge or abort a fertilised egg, according to the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome's Pontifical Holy Cross University.

"This new determination by the German bishops is in full continuity with church teaching, and specifies how best to implement new pharmaceutical technology," Gahl said.

Today's statement by the bishops stressed that rape victims "can of course receive human, medical, psychological and pastoral help in Catholic hospitals.

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