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The German Bishops & Sexual Violence

February 22, 2013

Last month, I read of a young woman in Germany who had very possibly been the victim of sexual violence. A Catholic hospital, it was reported, had refused her a basic examination. After her story became publicized, others surfaced similar in nature. The Archdiocese of Cologne released a statement regretting the “false” impression that victims of sexual violence could not receive medical treatment in Catholic hospitals and, yesterday, the German Bishops’ Conference reinforced that Catholic healthcare facilities could prescribe contraceptive medication.

Informing traditional opposition to contraception is the “inseparable connection” perceived to exist “between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act” (Humanae vitae, 12). Spouses, in other words, who choose the unitive dimension of sex but simultaneously reject its procreative dimension, are those to whom the Church addresses its teaching.

Rape, on the other hand, is an act of sexual violence. A victim, Austriaco writes, is “not choosing to sterilize a freely chosen sexual act. She is not choosing the unitive dimension of sex while simultaneously rejecting its procreative dimension. Indeed, properly speaking, she is not choosing at all.” In receiving medication, she can choose to “defend herself from a further violation from her rapist and the further perpetuation of an unjust act of sexual violence.” To self-defend in such a way is given voice in Directive 36 of the Ethical and Religious Directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “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.”

Considerations exist surrounding the effectiveness of contraceptive medication. Further, it is of great moral impact if post-fertilization effects of such medication do exist (and what those effects are). However, a victim of sexual violence is entitled to medical treatment in a Catholic facility and can justifiably defend herself against the possibility of a conception resulting from her being assaulted.

This is about self-defense. Not contraception.

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