Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bishop Listecki on the emergency contraception legislation

From today's Catholic Times:

Bishops Listecki, Morlino oppose emergency contraception bill
By Franz Klein
Staff Writer

LA CROSSE, Wis. (Catholic Times) – Bishops Jerome E. Listecki of La Crosse and Robert C. Morlino of Madison have broken from the Wisconsin Catholic Conference’s neutral stance on legislation that would force hospitals to dispense potentially abortifacient drugs to rape victims.
The WCC articulated its position on Assembly Bill 377/Senate Bill 129 – “Compassionate Care for Rape Victims” – Sept. 6, 2007, in testimony by conference associate director Kim Wadas before the Assembly Committee on Judiciary and Ethics.
“Some perceive our moral and ethical principles … preclude Catholic health facilities from making contraception available to rape victims. This is not the case,” Wadas told the committee that day.
Breaking from the WCC stance, Bishop Morlino first made public his opposition to Assembly Bill 377 – “Compassionate Care for Rape Victims” – in a Dec. 17, 2007, letter to legislators reprinted in the Dec. 20 Madison Catholic Herald. After several paragraphs explaining why circumstances had led him to make the move, the letter cited Bishop Listecki as “find(ing) himself completely in accord with the sentiments that I have expressed.”
“So I urge you, by this letter, to oppose AB 377,” Bishop Morlino concluded.
While the Catholic Church believes a woman has a right to protect herself from becoming pregnant as a result of rape, the two bishops fear that potentially inadequate conscience protection could force Catholic hospitals to dispense emergency contraception without allowing them to conduct testing to determine whether pregnancy has already occurred.
The Catholic Medical Association, which is the nation’s largest association of Catholic doctors, has questioned whether testing capable of determining whether fertilization has occurred even exists.
The Assembly measure passed a preliminary vote Dec. 11 only to be stalled by a procedural objection. The final Assembly vote will now take place Jan. 16. Its companion legislation, SB 129, is making its way through the Wisconsin State Senate.
In his letter, Bishop Morlino explained that the Catholic Conference’s neutral stance had been reached to “protect women who are victims of rape, while also protecting the possible pre-born human being, by affirming the necessary conscience exemption for institutions and individuals with regard to appropriate testing, so as to avoid abortifacient emergency contraception.”
But he added that the Assembly’s rejection of an amendment that would have provided such a conscience exemption makes the Catholic Conference’s position “moot,” and has caused it to expire.
In an interview with The Catholic Times following the publication of Bishop Morlino’s letter, Bishop Listecki affirmed that the grounds that made neutrality possible were gone.
“What the neutrality position was meant to articulate has been turned around by some to see it as a confirmation for the legislation,” Bishop Listecki said.
In an earlier letter to legislators dated Oct. 24, 2007, Bishop Morlino attributed this shift in perception to “some in the mass media – in seeming collaboration with Planned Parenthood.”
“Perceptions in our world are often everything,” Bishop Listecki said in his interview. “Neither I nor any bishop in Wisconsin wants to be perceived as being for legislation that goes against the teachings of the Church.”
Bishop Morlino also acknowledged this perception, writing, “Our conference’s neutrality stance has also unintentionally provoked scandal among Catholics who have been persuaded by statements in the media that we are becoming less fervent in our defense of the dignity of pre-born human life.”
Both bishops emphatically deny that this is the case.
Contacted by The Catholic Times, WCC executive director John Huebscher said the Catholic Conference is retaining its current stance of neutrality. “We respect the concerns raised in (Bishop Morlino’s) letter,” he said. “They certainly underscore the passion of the bishops in affirming human life. At the same time, the Catholic Conference has not changed its position on the bill.”
Heubscher added that there are no plans to revisit the matter as a conference.
Heubscher said the WCC’s neutrality is based on the unanimous opinion of the state’s diocesan attorneys that a current conscience exemption contained in Wisconsin Statue 253.09 would allow Catholic hospitals and individual physicians to “opt out” of the possibly abortion-inducing treatment the legislation would require.
While Bishop Listecki shares the lawyers’ opinion, he said he was breaking from the Catholic Conference’s stance of neutrality because “even legal opinions fall to (legislative) decisions that go contrary.”
“I don’t think we can go forward on something that’s merely a legal opinion,” Bishop Listecki explained. “We don’t want to exist in a climate of maybes.”
According to Bishop Morlino, the fact that so many anti-life legislators refused to vote for an earlier version of the bill that included a conscience exemption amendment indicates that they consider the protection offered by Statute 253.09 to be inapplicable to the present situation. “If this were assured, there would be no reason why the Assembly would have rejected conscience clause exemption protection for the reasons they gave,” the bishop wrote.
Pro-Life Wisconsin legislative director Matt Sande agreed. He said in a Catholic Times interview that the current conscience clause contained in Statue 253.09 was “intended to keep physicians and hospital employees from being forced to participate in sterilizations and surgical abortions.” “It’s not going to be enough. That’s our opinion,” he said.
Thus, Sande said, pro-lifers are grateful for the courageous stand of Bishops Listecki and Morlino. “We pray that it will be effective in turning votes, in causing legislators who support the bill to reconsider,” he said.

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