Connecticut Bishops Not the Victims


There's nothing new about Connecticut Catholic Bishops' claim that they are the real victims of new legislation that stops Connecticut hospitals from denying emergency contraception (EC) to women who have been raped—after all, everyone knows that enforced pregnancy by rape is far easier to cope with than having to balance one's personal religious beliefs with accepted medical ethics. But the Bishops' outcry represents a rhetorical trend in Christian Right political activism that is worth noting, since it seems to be getting used more and more often to shore up opposition to legislative measures intended to protect vulnerable or marginalized people from violence, negligence, and abuse (Rick Perlstein at Tom Paine has an excellent analysis of this trend in the Christian Right's response to hate crimes legislation recently introduced in the U.S. Congress).

The Connecticut legislation, recently signed into law by Republican governor M. Jodi Rell, came in response to widespread negligence of the reproductive rights of rape survivors in Connecticut hospitals. In 2006, research conducted by Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS) revealed that 40 percent of women who were taken to Connecticut hospitals after being raped either were not offered EC or were not given the full dose, even though 8 percent of women who have been raped become pregnant (EC is effective at preventing pregnancy if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex). The phenomenon was particularly pronounced in Connecticut's Catholic hospitals, who had been directed in 2006 by Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell to refuse EC to rape victims who were ovulating or whose eggs had been fertilized—even though it's been shown time and time again that EC prevents—rather than interrupts—pregnancy, and therefore, if a woman who is already pregnant takes EC, the drug has no effect.

Although CONNSACCS' research was conducted only in Connecticut Catholic and secular hospitals, the phenomenon it uncovered is a national one. Research recently conducted by Ibis Reproductive Health and Catholics for a Free Choice reveals similar trends in Catholic hospitals nationwide, over a third of which do not make EC available to rape victims in the ER.

Enter the Connecticut legislation (as well as similar bills that have already passed in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Minnesota), which requires all Connecticut hospitals to offer EC to women who have been raped. The legislation was drafted by state Senator Jonathan Harris of West Hartford, who did his best to accommodate the wishes of Catholic healthcare providers by including a provision that allows hospitals to conduct a pregnancy test before giving a woman EC. Lawmakers stopped short of including a provision that would have allowed Catholic hospitals to conduct an "ovulation test" as well, and as a result, Connecticut Bishops are now claiming that the legislation forces Catholic healthcare providers to perform "chemical abortions," which violates their right to religious freedom. I guess that for them, religious freedom—even in a plural democracy—is absolute, and in this case, it is predicated on the ability to deny rape victims' rights.

While advocates for the reproductive rights of rape survivors celebrate their legislative victory, attorneys for the Catholic hospitals are already making plans to challenge the law, and the Bishops are warning of a slippery slope for Catholic hospitals nationwide. Once you're forced to respect the rights of some of your patients, after all, what's to stop the state from forcing you to respect the rights of all of your patients? Dangerous times indeed.

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  • invalid-0

    This is a giant step forward in making the religious right face up to its responsibility to its patients.

    The last sentence of the article (Once you’re forced to respect the rights of some of your patients, after all, what’s to stop the state from forcing you to respect the rights of all of your patients? Dangerous times indeed.) sums up the church’s position on many subjects, basically, if your position does not correspond to the church’s mythology, “tough”.