Sunday, November 4, 2007

"If there’s doubt of fact you don’t act" -- Doctor-priest sounds off on emergency contraception

Connecticut made the first move. Will Wisconsin be the next?

CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (Catholic Times) – “If there’s doubt of fact, you don’t act,” said Father Christopher Kubat, M.D., Oct. 17 in regard to providing the morning-after pill to victims of sexual assault.

After fertilization occurs, he said, taking the morning-after pill would induce an abortion.

Speaking at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Chippewa Falls, Father Kubat said that “reliable testing” for determining whether fertilization has occurred “does not exist.” And he added that neither pregnancy nor ovulation testing provides the absolute certainty he argues is necessary to proceed with dispensing a pill that would be lethal to an unborn child.

“There’s a moral principle: If there’s a doubt of fact, you don’t act,” he said.

Not only does the morning-after pill have the potential to induce an abortion, but Father Kubat also cited a 2003 study that showed its powerful ovulation-suppression drugs increase the rate of often-fatal ectopic pregnancies, where the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus.

Why? “Because,” Father Kubat said, even as they affect a fertilized egg’s ability to implant properly, “these agents do not reliably suppress ovulation.”

A doctor who practiced urology in Milwaukee before he became a priest, Father Kubat is a nationally recognized bioethics expert. He is also the executive director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb. Father Kubat’s Oct. 17 lecture was co-sponsored by the Chippewa Falls Knights of Columbus, Pro-Life Wisconsin and the Chippewa Falls Guild of the Catholic Medical Association.

Father Kubat said addressing the issue of providing emergency contraception to rape victims is “timely,” given that Wisconsin is currently considering legislation that would require hospitals to administer the morning-after pill, also known as Plan B, to sexual assault victims.

In early September, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s five dioceses, dropped its opposition to SB 129/AB 377. “Catholic hospitals can and do treat victims with emergency contraception,” WCC associate director Kim Wadas said in testimony before the Assembly’s committee on judiciary and ethics. “Some perceive that our moral and ethical principles … preclude Catholic health facilities from making contraception available to rape victims. This is not the case.”

However, the Catholic Medical Association, the nation’s largest association of Catholic doctors, as well as many pro-lifers, believe the WCC testimony was problematic and constitutes cooperation in the administering of abortifacient drugs. And CMA president-elect Dr. Kathleen Raviele told that the current situation requires reassessment. “In everything we err on the side of life,” she said.

The CMA points to Connecticut, where the bishops had also dropped their opposition to this portion of a similar bill but are now backpedaling. “The Church in Connecticut would have had a greater opportunity to resist” the state law if there had been definitive statements on Plan B from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and/or the Vatican, Hartford diocesan spokesman Father John Gatzak told Catholic News Service Oct. 11.

But others say, at least in regard to the morning-after pill, the Vatican has already spoken. They cite a 2000 statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life, which said: “The absolute unlawfulness of abortifacient procedures also applies to distributing, prescribing and taking the morning-after pill. All who, whether sharing the intention or not, directly co-operate with this procedure are also morally responsible for it.”

Although the Connecticut law took effect Oct. 1, Father Kubat said Oct. 17 that it’s not too late in Wisconsin, where the proposed law has yet to pass. To help guide bishops, he said the current USCCB statement’s ambiguity on what type of certainty is acceptable before dispensing the potentially fatal morning-after pill needs to be clarified.

According to the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” published by the USCCB in 2001: “If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, (a woman) may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization.”

But Father Kubat emphasized that “there is no appropriate testing,” and neither would there be appropriate testing until medical science comes up with a way to determine if fertilization has occurred. He said a pregnancy or urinary test won’t show up as positive until two to three weeks after fertilization, and ovulation testing isn’t completely reliable either. “So if you give Plan B,” even if these tests have come back negative, “it could cause an abortion,” he said.

According to Wadas’ testimony, the WCC’s lack of opposition to SB 129/AB 377 is conditioned upon being able to “follow testing protocols that establish with moral certitude that a pregnancy has not occurred.” The WCC argued that pregnancy and ovulation testing can and do establish the necessary certitude that a woman is not pregnant.
But Father Kubat vehemently disagreed. “If we are morally certain about anything, it is that the risk of an abortion using these drugs is significant based on the scientific data presented,” he said. “That’s what we can be morally certain of if we want to talk about moral certainty.”

“If you take an honest look at the scientific data, reliable testing” to establish absolute certitude “does not exist,” Father Kubat added. “But now, unfortunately, most hospitals regularly dispense emergency contraception, including Catholic hospitals.”

Franz Klein, reporter for the Catholic Times of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, also blogs at The Catholic Beat.

Klein commented on his article:
Of all the articles from this past Thursday's Catholic Times, I'm most proud of the one I wrote on Father Christopher Kubat's lecture on emergency contraception, which he delivered Oct. 17 in Chippewa Falls. This talk is very notable here in Wisconsin, since our bishops have officially dropped opposition to a bill that will force Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception after the administration of a pregnancy test. For reasons Father Kubat lays out quite clearly, this legislation is unacceptable, as is the bishops' current position. I'm hoping this article's prominence in a diocesan paper will help get the ball rolling for the bishops to re-examine their position, something I've hear is in the works.

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