BOSTON—Gov. Mitt Romney last week instructed the state Department of Public Health that Catholic and other private hospitals are not exempt from a new law that would require them to dispense emergency contraception to all rape victims. In doing so, Romney overruled the department’s finding that privately run hospitals do not have to provide contraception or abortions.
Romney had previously taken the position that the requirements of the new law were superceded by a 1975 law that provided privately owned hospitals with conscience exemption for abortion and contraception services.
“They’ve taken the position now that the preexisting statute somehow does not shield Catholic and other private hospitals from this new mandate. I think there is a solid legal argument against that position,” said Daniel Avila, associate director of public policy for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.
“I think ultimately it’s going to have to be resolved in the courts,” he added. “This is going to be, from a legal perspective, a very complicated question to resolve. From the moral perspective, it’s clear that hospitals cannot participate in an evil. The question is: What kind of protection does the law provide in Massachusetts for hospitals that want to refuse to participate in abortions and contraception?”
Emergency contraceptives are a high dosage of hormones — progesterone and sometimes estrogen — found in other contraceptives. The medication can delay ovulation so that a woman does not become pregnant. However, it can also thin the lining of the uterus, preventing implantation if conception has already occurred, causing an abortion.
Church teaching supports providing emergency contraceptives to rape victims who are not pregnant since it can be considered a form of defense against an unjust aggression. Caritas Christi Health Care’s guidelines affirm that “a female sexual assault victim should be able to protect herself against a potential conception as a result of an assault, if after appropriate testing, there is no evidence conception has already occurred.”
“It goes to the core of our teaching that God created all human life, and the destruction of human life is something that no one — whether you’re Catholic or not — should be participating in,” said Avila.
The law, which went into effect Dec. 14, mandates that hospitals must provide emergency contraceptives to “each rape victim.”
Eric Fehrnstrom, spokesman for Gov. Romney, said that the main objective of the emergency contraception bill was to remove prescription controls on the drug “for all women, including young girls who could obtain it without parental consent.”
The governor vetoed the bill, but his veto was overridden.
“A secondary issue came up that pertains to whether or not the new law supersedes a prior law that allows religious hospitals to opt out of providing the drug to victims of rape,” added Fehrnstrom. “After a thorough legal analysis our conclusion is that the new law trumps the old law.”
Avila noted that the new law, like others before it, interferes with religious freedom.
“This is a next step in a continuing conflict between a more secular society and the wonderful vision of the human person based on natural law and Church teaching,” he said. “It’s going to force the Catholic community to come to grips with just how important it is to preserve this vision.”