The Scottish Catholic Bishops today issued the following statement on the forthcoming over the counter sale of the "morning after pill";
Reports that teenage pregnancies in Scotland are amongst the highest in Europe are a cause of great concern to all of us.
The Government has a duty, which it acknowledges, of implementing policies which promote the common good of society. As Bishops, we also have a duty, that of examining any policy as to its moral character.
In recent days the Government has announced that it proposes to make the so-called "morning after pill" available over the counter, without prescription, from January 1st. Until now this drug has only been available by prescription. This move is being presented as an attempt to tackle the problem of unwanted teenage pregnancy.
That aim is one we all share. Families, schools, Churches and Government all have a roll to play. The common objective of all concerned should be to make unwanted teenage pregnancy, as far as is humanly possible, a problem of the past.
However we need to question whether the Government's "solution" is misconstrued. For if the "solution" risks damaging human life, contributing to the breakdown in family life and violating consciences then we have to ask whether it is indeed a "solution" at all?
Our concern about the use of the morning after pill is not based simply upon the well known opposition of Catholic teaching to contraception per se, but also to our radical opposition to abortion.
The fact of the matter is that the morning after pill may prevent ovulation, and therefore subsequent fertilisation of the egg. However, dependant of when it is administered it can also work by preventing the tiny human being, or embryo, which comes into existence at the moment of conception from implanting in the mothers womb. This leads to the death of the embryo. In this case it is a form of early abortion.
The Church cannot remain silent on this issue, given the gravity of what is being proposed.
In stating these simple facts the Church is not seeking to impose its judgement on others. Rather we aim to propose for public consideration the truth about these drugs and their effects.
In ethical terms, the Church considers the prescription, supply and consumption of potentially abortifacient drugs to be gravely wrong. We call on doctors, pharmacists, parents and teenagers to reflect on the reality of what is being proposed and exercise their conscientious right of objection.
We are not alone in noting that in an attempt to cut teenage pregnancy rates, the Government may inadvertently push up rates of teenage sexual experimentation, sexually transmitted disease and early chemically-educed abortion.
There are many difficult questions which need to be addressed by the Government. For example :
What safeguards will be put in place to ensure this drug is not made available to children under 16?
Is it realistic to hope that its administration can be properly monitored?
Can the appropriate counselling be given in the context of a busy pharmacist's shop?
These and many other questions have yet to be answered.
Our concern to support the family is also well-known. We are therefore concerned that family relationships will be undermined by the Governments approach. The family is the proper forum for discussion and support of teenagers coming to terms with their sexual development. The family unit today needs much encouragement and support to carry out its responsibilities in this area. Instead it is being sidelined. By offering over the counter potentially abortifacient drugs to sixteen year olds, parents rights are being undermined and family bonds weakened.
If our teenagers feel that they are so unimportant that we can leave this aspect of their healthcare to a 10-minte chat in a busy pharmacy, with a pharmacist who cannot carry out any physical examination, consult medical records nor discuss the issue with family members, we risk sending out a regrettable and dangerous message to a highly vulnerable group.
It is our considered view that this proposal does not serve the common good.
·It threatens human life at its most vulnerable stage
It does not pay due consideration to the potential effects on the well-being and health of our young people.
It potentially undermines family relationships.
We intend to issue, early in the new year, a pastoral letter to Catholic people of Scotland outlining the reasons why the Church opposes wider availability of the morning after pill.
In the mean time we remain open to dialogue with all concerned parties about alternative ways forward in tackling the problem of unwanted teenage pregnancy, an issue which must concern all people of good will.
DMCL, 27 December 2000