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March 4, 2009
Senate Bill 225: troubling for Catholic medical care
Catholic medical care belongs to a centuries-long tradition of Christian service to the poor, the hungry, the abandoned and the infirm. While our faith focuses primarily on God, the Gospel makes clear that we can only reach him by helping each other, and especially those persons most in need.
When it comes to the sick and suffering, Catholic health care does not distinguish between Catholics and non-Catholics. It seeks to serve the whole community. It has always done so with great skill. But of course, the reason Catholic health care exists and succeeds is tied intimately to its Catholic identity. Coercing Catholic institutions—including Catholic medical care—to violate the very principles that motivate them would amount to a kind of robbery, and not just a robbery of Catholics but of the entire Colorado public.
One of the principles guiding Catholic health care is respect for the sanctity of human life from its beginning to its natural end. That principle is ensured by the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) which govern Catholic medical institutions. ERD No. 36 says the following:
Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.
Not everyone respects this ethically grounded approach. Whatever her intentions, Colorado state Senator Betty Boyd has an unfortunate track record of hostility toward Catholic identity and freedom of conscience when it comes to matters like contraception and abortion. It’s important to remember that Colorado Catholic hospitals already provide “emergency contraception” to victims of rape in accord with ERD No. 36. But in sponsoring her latest flawed bill—Senate Bill 225, or “The Birth Control Protection Act”—Senator Boyd now seeks to change the language of the law in a manner that creates grave problems for Catholic medicine.
Current Colorado law specifically notes that emergency contraception “shall not include RU-486, mifepristone, or any other drug or device that induces a medical abortion” (emphasis added). Senator Boyd’s new bill would drop that vital protective language from the law.
In Catholic teaching, pregnancy begins at fertilization; i.e., from the moment a distinct new human being exists in the fusion of sperm and ovum. Under Colorado law, however, pregnancy begins at “implantation,” i.e., when the fertilized ovum implants in the uterine wall. As a result—unless specific protective language is included in a bill—Catholic hospitals may be coerced into using drugs and procedures that are abortion-inducing and directly attack Catholic beliefs about human life and dignity.
Senate Bill 225 is seriously flawed in a number of ways: Its language is too broad, and it undermines, in a very misleading manner, the freedom of Catholic health care providers to serve the public while remaining true to their identity, their mission and their moral and religious convictions.
Catholics need to be alert to this kind of flawed and unnecessary legislation, understand its troubling implications, and ask their elected representatives to dramatically revise or retire Senate Bill 225. If Catholics don’t energetically defend their freedom to act as Catholics in the public square—both individually and institutionally—nobody else will.
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