The morning after: What the Catholic Church says about sexual assault

By Raisa Benusa

Lumen Reporter

The Catholic Church is not op­posed to the use of birth control to prevent a woman who has been raped from becoming pregnant. This was the main message of Ma­rie Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy at the national Catho­lic Bioethics Center, in her presenta­tion on Feb. 23.

Hilliard spoke to an audience of around 25 in the Fine Arts Center Recital Hall on how the Catholic Church views sexual assault and how the church views measures meant to prevent pregnancy in the case of a sexual assault.

“There are potentially two victims in sexual assault cases: the woman attacked and the child that might be conceived in the attack,” Hilliard said.

“We want appropriate testing that shows that no evidence of concep­tion has occurred,” Hilliard said. “We support medications that pre­vent ovulation, sperm capacitation, and fertilization.”

The church supports drugs that would prevent fertilization if they were used to prevent the results of “this unjust aggression,” Hilliard said.

“We shouldn’t even label sexual assault as something sexual,” Hill­iard said. “It’s an act of violence.”

“Women have the right to defend themselves and the church supports this,” she said. Self-defense includes fighting the attacker, going to the authorities, and preventing unwant­ed pregnancy.

“The victims often blame them­selves,” Hilliard said. “But, there is no blame on the victim.”

The church advocates for victims to come forth, she said. This means after being sexually assaulted, the woman should go to a hospital and notify the police. Every hospital will either have on hand or be in contact with clergy members and psycholo­gists who are there to help victims.

“Compassion is the key,” Hill­iard said. “Our duty in Catholic hospitals is knowing how to show compassion for the mother and no­tifying her what all of the effects of medications are.”

“The morning-after pill might pre­vent the fertilized embryo from at­taching to the uterine wall,” Hilliard said. She explained that these wom­en should know all of the factors of what the medications, such as levo­norgestrel, also known as Plan B and the morning after pill, can do.

Hilliard said that the Catholic Church is not against sexually as­saulted women wanting to take measures to ensure that they do not become pregnant. However, these measures have guidelines.

“We want to test to see if we can stop ovulation and we only ask for moral certitude to offer sexually as­ saulted women the truth,” Hilliard said. “We want to help the victims defend themselves against these acts of aggression.”

The morning-after pill will inhibit ovulation only about 50 percent of the time, but almost 58-95 percent of the time it is preventing pregnancy, Hilliard said. What the morning-after pill does is alter the cervical mucus and incapacitates sperm “but this doesn’t happen quickly enough because by the time the cervical mu­cus is altered, the sperm has already entered the uterus,” Hilliard said.

The morning-after pill might also affect the endometrium and one of the results could prevent the egg from implanting in the uterus.

“Any drug that changes the endo­metrium so the fertilized egg cannot implant is basically starving the em­bryo to death,” Hilliard said. “We do not want the second victim to be hurt.”

A rape victim has to get medical help very soon after being assaulted, quickly enough so that the sperm can be removed prior to fertilization of her egg. But, once the egg is fer­tilized, the Catholic Church expects the woman to carry the fertilized egg to term.

“They will say you can test for pregnancy, but this won’t be posi­tive until the egg attaches to the uterine wall,” Hilliard said. “If the woman goes in right after being raped, during the health screening, if she shows up positive, the man who assaulted her is not the father. She was pregnant before.”

It can take 5-12 days after inter­course for a pregnancy test to be positive.

“I was surprised to learn that there are instances when the Catholic Church is okay with contraception,” a member of the audience, Jordyn McGinnity, a senior English educa­tion major from Luck, Wis. said. “I just wish that it extended beyond the narrow scope of their suggested protocol.”

Hilliard has a B.S.M, M.S., M.A., J.C.L., Ph.D., and is an RN. Accord­ing to http://www.ncbcenter.org, Hilliard “has [a] background in medical eth­ics and public policy and advocacy; and has been a registered nurse for 12 years.”

“The Tragedy of Sexual Assault and the Compassion of the Church” was hosted by the D.B Reinhart In­stitute for Ethics in Leadership and sponsored by the Catholic Medical Association La Crosse Guild.

Future speakers in the 2011-2012 Ethics Institute speakers’ series in­clude James Hunter on March 22 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the Fine Arts Center Main Theater and the “Teaching the Holocaust” A Work­shop for Middle and High School Teachers, March 22-23. Registration is required for both events.

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