This time, it didn’t take the Catholic Church long to react. In mid-January, the church in Germany was blasted after two Catholic hospitals in Cologne refused treatment to a rape victim due to concerns about the provision of emergency contraception in the form of the “morning-after” pill.
On Thursday, the German Bishops’ Conference completed an about-face on its approach to the treatment, saying that Catholic facilities in Germany were now free to prescribe such pills in rape cases, provided that the medication was used to prevent a pregnancy and not to abort an already fertilized egg.
Robert Zollitsch, head of the Bishops’ Conference, announced the decision in Trier, saying that rape victims would “of course receive humane, medical, psychological and spiritual care” at Catholic hospitals. It applies to all Catholic facilities in Germany and follows a similar change made unilaterally by Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne in the immediate wake of the scandal.
The decision marks a carefully calibrated turnaround. Immediately after the rape victim — who ultimately received treatment at a Protestant facility — was refused attention, an emergency center doctor said that the hospital ethics commission had consulted with Cardinal Meisner and elected to forego treatment of rape victims because it could force doctors to provide consultation on unwanted pregnancies and ultimately medication to obviate such pregnancies.
Soon thereafter, however, the Catholic foundation that runs the two hospitals said it was the result of a misunderstanding. Meisner then announced that the morning-after pill was okay because medical research shows that the drug discourages fertilization rather than preventing the implantation of the embryo in the uterus. Studies appear to back up that interpretation, though research is not yet conclusive.