Pastoral Letter on "Morning After Pill"

A Pastoral Letter detailing the Church's position and objections to the so-called "morning after pill" will be made available to all Catholics at their local parishes in the coming weeks.

The Letter, which is signed by all eight Scottish Catholic Bishops, restates the objection to the morning after pill as a "chemically-induced abortion" and the bishops point out that "the Church cannot remain silent on this issue, given the serious nature of what is being proposed". The Letter also calls on doctors, pharmacists, parents and teenagers "to reflect on what is being proposed and to exercise their conscientious right of objection".

The bishops also voice their concern that the introduction of this measure will have a detrimental effect on the family. The Letter states: "The family is the proper place for discussion and support of teenagers coming to terms with their sexual development. Families today need much encouragement and support to carry out their responsibilities in this area".

"Instead they are being sidelined. By offering over-the-counter potentially abortifacient drugs to 16 year olds, parental 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-minute chat in a busy pharmacy, with a pharmacist who cannot carry out any physical examination, or consult medical records, we are sending out a regrettable and dangerous message to a highly vulnerable group."

The bishops conclude by saying that the Church hopes that an approach may be found which "gives a proper role to the family and which provides teenagers with accurate information and guidance to allow them to resist peer pressure and make positive moral choices."

The intention to issue a Pastoral Letter on this subject was indicated in the statement issued by the Scottish bishops on Wednesday 27th December 2000.

Reports that unwanted teenage pregnancies in Scotland are among the highest in Europe are a cause of great concern to all of us.

The Government has a duty to implement policies which promote the common good of society. All of us: families, schools, Churches and Government have our own role to play in making unwanted teenage pregnancy a problem of the past, as far as that is humanly possible.

Recently the Government announced a plan to allow the so-called "morning after pill" to be bought from any pharmacy, by those aged 16 or over, without prescription.

As Bishops we wish to alert you to our concerns over this plan. It is not enough that a particular policy should be effective; it must also be morally acceptable. Catholic teaching is clear in stating that the ends do not justify the means.

Our opposition to the use of the-morning-after pill is not based simply upon well-known opposition of Catholic teaching to contraception as such, but also to our radical opposition to abortion. The fact of the matter is that the morning after pill may prevent ovulation, and therefore the fertilisation of an egg.

However, depending on when it is administered it can also prevent a tiny human being, or embryo, which has come into existence at the moment of conception, from implanting in the mother's womb. This leads to the death of the embryo. In such cases we are dealing with chemically-induced abortion.

The Church cannot remain silent on this issue, given the serious nature of what is being proposed. In stating these simple facts we are not seeking to impose our views on others. Instead, we aim to propose for public consideration the truth about these drugs.

In ethical terms, the Church considers the prescription, supply and consumption of potentially abortifacient drugs to be very wrong. We call on doctors, pharmacists, parents and teenagers to reflect on what is being proposed and to exercise their conscientious right of objection.

Many people have noted that this attempt to cut teenage pregnancy rates may inadvertently push up rates of teenage sexual activity, sexually transmitted disease and early chemically-induced abortion.

We are also deeply concerned that family relationships will be undermined by the Government's approach.

The family is the proper place for discussion and support of our teenagers coming to terms with their sexual development. Families today needs much encouragement and support to carry out their responsibilities in this area.

Instead, they are being sidelined. By offering over-the-counter potentially abortifacient drugs to 16 year olds, parental 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-minute chat in a busy pharmacy, with a pharmacist who cannot carry out any physical examination, or consult medical records, we are sending out a regrettable and dangerous message to a highly vulnerable group.

We call on all concerned to work together to produce a new strategy which is respectful of human life at all its stages, which is ordered to the true good of the human person and which is in conformity with the law of God.

The Catholic Church, for its part, remains open to dialogue, in the hope that an approach can be found which gives a proper role to the family and which provides teenagers with accurate information and guidance to allow them to resist peer pressure and make positive moral choices.

With every good wish,
Yours devotedly in Christ,

Thomas J. Cardinal Winning - Archbishop of Glasgow
Keith Patrick O'Brien - Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh  
Mario Conti - Bishop of Aberdeen  
Joseph Devine - Bishop of Motherwell  
Vincent Logan - Bishop of Dunkeld  
Maurice Taylor - Bishop of Galloway  
John Mone - Bishop of Paisley
Ian Murray - Bishop of Argyll and the Isles  

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