2-23-2013 | VATICAN
ACADEMY FOR LIFE STATEMENT
ON THE SO-CALLED “MORNING-AFTER PILL”
As is commonly
known, the so-called morning-after pill recently went on sale in
Italian pharmacies. It is a well-known chemical product (of the
hormonal type) which has frequently - even in the past week - been
presented by many in the field and by the mass media as a mere
contraceptive or, more precisely, as an “emergency contraceptive”,
which can be used within a short time after a presumably fertile act
of sexual intercourse, should one wish to prevent the continuation of
an unwanted pregnancy. The inevitable critical reactions of those who
have raised serious doubts about how this product works, namely, that
its action is not merely “contraceptive” but “abortifacient”,
have received the very hasty reply that such concerns appear
unfounded, since the morning-after pill has an “anti-implantation”
effect, thus implicitly suggesting a clear distinction between
abortion and interception (preventing the implantation of the
fertilized ovum, i.e., the embryo, in the uterine wall).
the use of this product concerns fundamental human goods and values,
to the point of involving the origins of human life itself, the
Pontifical Academy for Life feels the pressing duty and definite need
to offer some clarifications and considerations on the subject,
reaffirming moreover already well-known ethical positions supported by
precise scientific data and reinforced by Catholic doctrine.
morning-after pill is a hormone-based preparation (it can contain
oestrogens, oestrogen/progestogens or only progestogens) which, within
and no later than 72 hours after a presumably fertile act of sexual
intercourse, has a predominantly “anti-implantation” function,
i.e., it prevents a possible fertilized ovum (which is a human
embryo), by now in the blastocyst stage of its development (fifth to
sixth day after fertilization), from being implanted in the uterine
wall by a process of altering the wall itself.
The final result
will thus be the expulsion and loss of this embryo.
Only if this pill
were to be taken several days before the moment of ovulation could it
sometimes act to prevent the latter (in this case it would function as
a typical “contraceptive”).
However, the woman
who uses this kind of pill does so in the fear that she may be in her
fertile period and therefore intends to cause the expulsion of a
possible new conceptus; above all, it would be unrealistic to think
that a woman, finding herself in the situation of wanting to use an
emergency contraceptive, would be able to know exactly and opportunely
her current state of fertility.
2. The decision to
use the term “fertilized ovum” to indicate the earliest phases of
embryonic development can in no way lead to an artificial value
distinction between different moments in the development of the same
human individual. In other words, if it can be useful, for reasons of
scientific description, to distinguish with conventional terms
(fertilized ovum, embryo, fetus, etc.) different moments in a single
growth process, it can never be legitimate to decide arbitrarily that
the human individual has greater or lesser value (with the resulting
variation in the duty to protect it) according to its stage of
3. It is clear,
therefore, that the proven “anti-implantation” action of the
morning-after pill is really nothing other than a chemically induced
abortion. It is neither intellectually consistent nor scientifically
justifiable to say that we are not dealing with the same thing.
Moreover, it seems
sufficiently clear that those who ask for or offer this pill are
seeking the direct termination of a possible pregnancy already in
progress, just as in the case of abortion. Pregnancy, in fact, begins
with fertilization and not with the implantation of the blastocyst in
the uterine wall, which is what is being implicitly suggested.
from the ethical standpoint the same absolute unlawfulness of
abortifacient procedures also applies to distributing, prescribing and
taking the morning-after pill. All who, whether sharing the intention
or not, directly co-operate with this procedure are also morally
responsible for it.
5. A further
consideration should be made regarding the use of the morning-after
pill in relation to the application of Law 194/78, which in Italy
regulates the conditions and procedures for the voluntary termination
Saying that the
pill is an “anti-implantation” product, instead of using the more
transparent term “abortifacient”, makes it possible to avoid all
the obligatory procedures required by Law 194 in order to terminate a
pregnancy (prior interview, verification of pregnancy, determination
of growth stage, time for reflection, etc.), by practicing a form of
abortion that is completely hidden and cannot be recorded by any
institution. All this seems, then, to be in direct contradiction to
the correct application of Law 194, itself debatable.
6. In the end,
since these procedures are becoming more widespread, we strongly urge
everyone who works in this sector to make a firm objection of moral
conscience, which will bear courageous and practical witness to the
inalienable value of human life, especially in view of the new hidden
forms of aggression against the weakest and most defenseless
individuals, as is the case with a human embryo.
October 31, 2000.