Contraception, the USCCB and Ron Paul

I’ve witnessed a lot of confusion among the pro-life movement concerning Ron Paul’s alleged transgressions against the culture of life as well as what, exactly, the Catholic church teaches concerning contraception, specifically on contraception use in cases of rape. I’ll begin by addressing the claim that Ron Paul is compromised on life issues. Here is a post from a reader of the Daily Paul explaining why he believes that he cannot in good conscience vote for Congressman Paul:

I can no longer support Ron Paul. I’ve discovered that in his book Liberty Defined, Ron Paul advocates the morning-after pill:

“So if we are ever to have fewer abortions, society must change again. The law will not accomplish that. However, that does not mean that the states shouldn’t be allowed to write laws dealing with abortion. Very early pregnancies and victims of rape can be treated with the day after pill, which is nothing more than using birth control pills in a special manner. These very early pregnancies could never be policed, regardless. Such circumstances would be dealt with by each individual making his or her own moral choice.”

I had previously understood that Ron Paul would nullify Roe v. Wade, allowing the states to make their own laws, while using the bully pulpit to encourage them to outlaw abortion. The problem is he is using his current bully pulpit to encourage the morning after pill. I will be removing my Ron Paul bumper sticker and be sitting out the 2012 presidential election.

This statement is open to a wide range of interpretations including the one presented above and that is disturbing considering that Ron Paul is so outspoken in favor of the pro-life cause. Ron Paul speaks regularly about the culture of life, has written legislation defining personhood as beginning at conception which would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade, he favors a constitutional amendment protecting life beginning at conception and as an OB/GYN he has devoted his career to delivering thousands of babies. So, if Ron Paul really is advocating abortifacients as a legitimate alternative to abortion then this is in stark contrast to his previous words and actions and, indeed, is quite upsetting.

However, in keeping with the law of Occam’s razor and choosing an interpretation with the least number of assumptions, I would argue that Ron Paul’s above statement remains consistent with his other views. While life begins at conception, a fact Ron Paul readily recognizes, it is impossible to prove that pregnancy has occurred until implantation and therefore impossible to enforce a law banning abortions that take place prior to implantation. A law that can never be enforced is a bad law and, keeping with Ron Paul’s constitutional approach to government, should not exist. If such a law is unenforceable then, indeed, such a decision would be left to each individual’s “own moral choice” and becomes a battle that we must fight and win on the cultural level, by winning hearts and minds, and not through the coercion of law. Or, as Ron Paul but it in the supposedly damning quote above, “if we are to have fewer abortions, society must change.”

Next, I’d like to address the related issue of church teaching regarding contraception. I’m getting my information from Catholic Health Care Ethics: A Manual for Practitioners edited by Edward Furton, Peter Cataldo and Albert Moraczewski, O.P. Information on the USCCB directive in question below can be found here:

According to the Catholic church, contraception use in conjugal love (the loving, theological reality of sexual intercourse) is always wrong. Period. The end. However, the church does allow the use of contraceptives for treating of hormonal disorders in which the intent of the use of the drug is to fix a hormonal imbalance in the body and not to interfere with the theological reality of sexual intercourse. Thus, its obvious that contraceptives such as the Pill are not intrinsically evil but instead their licitness depends on how they are used.

Additionally, there is one other exemption for when contraception use is licit and that is in the case of rape victims. This may seem odd to a great many within the pro-life movement but when one understands the underlying theological dynamics at play then the church’s exemption seems perfectly reasonable.

Catholic theology dictates that there are two realities involved in sex. There is the physical reality which is the anatomical/physiological mechanics of sexual intercourse that is pleasure, reproduction etc. and then there is the theological reality that sex is procreative and unitive. Note that the physical reality of reproduction (the mere promulgation of the species also existent in every animal on Earth) is distinct from the theological reality of procreation (where man and women cooperate with God to bring a new person into the world) and pleasure is distinct from unity. Contraception (as distinct from abortifacients) is wrong because it violates the theological realities of procreation and unity. However, rape is neither procreative nor unitive.

The USCCB, whose role it is to establish policy for the practical application of church teaching in the United States, in “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” Directive 36 provides the rubric for contraceptive use in an emergency room setting for rape victims:

“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”.

This includes contraceptives with a possible abortifacient effect as long as contraception and not abortion is its intent and moral certitude that ovulation has not occurred is established. Moral certitude does not necessitate a statistical probability of 100%, impossible to meet with current medical technology, but the highest degree of certainty possible with the tools available to us. Thus, if moral certitude can be established that the woman has not ovulated, thereby minimizing any risk involved that an already conceived child might be harmed, contraception may be administered in order to prevent conception resulting from rape and thus defending the women from further invasion by her attacker.

In summary, I think Ron Paul’s intent is to avoid federal intervention on an issue that cannot be feasibly policed not to endorse the morning-after-pill. Although regrettably his statements on this issue are poorly worded and therefore ambiguous and open to misinterpretation. Furthermore, contraception use in cases of rape does not violate Catholic teaching nor the integrity of the pro-life movement, granted that rigorous protocol is followed. As an experienced OB/GYN who has worked with and praised Catholic hospitals Ron Paul is most likely aware of this – perhaps further explaining his nuanced stance on life issues.


2 thoughts on “Contraception, the USCCB and Ron Paul

  1. Excuse me, I randomly found your blog while searching for a quote from Ron Paul, and I just wanted to say something. Ron Paul is not perfect, but he is the closest thing we have to a Constitutional candidate. I assume that Rick Santorum was your next choice, but I would just like to say that a man who would sacrifice his morals to win one “for the team”, is no better than one who has a wrong view on the morning after pill. Currently, only Ron Paul and Romney are in the race, so Santorum is gone anyway, but I just wanted to say that I don’t believe that we should sacrifice most of our beliefs, for the sake of one. Ron Paul is the closest candidate to being Constitutional, and we should not ditch him, merely because he is wrong on a topic. He will have no effect on whether the morning after pill is legalized, and every other candidate has many major flaws. Right now, it is down to Romney and Paul, and if we don’t support Paul, America will suffer. Obama and Romney are both big-government, and a term from either of them, could easily take away many of the liberties we still have left. Romney supports the Patriot Act, the NDAA, and has flip flopped on important issues every election. Ron Paul may not be the best choice, but if we wait for the best choice, we are going to be waiting for a long time… We need to start working at all levels(Federal, state, and local) to return our country to the Constitution.

  2. Oh drat, I commented on the wrong page… Sorry, I had more than one blog pulled up at the same time…

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