Catholic Bishops Agree to Let Hospitals Give Emergency Contraception to Rape Victims

Roman Catholic bishops have agreed to let hospital personnel give emergency contraception to all rape victims, reversing their decision days before a new state law requires it.

The church had fought the state law by arguing it would force Catholic medical personnel to perform chemical abortions because they may be providing emergency contraception to women who are ovulating. The Catholic hospitals wanted to first perform ovulation tests, but lawmakers did not include such tests in the legislation.

The bishops now say that administering the drug, sold as Plan B, cannot be judged as an abortion.

Plan B is a high dose of a drug found in many regular birth-control pills. Its maker, Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc., got approval last year to sell the drug over-the-counter.

Plan B can lower the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The drug works by stopping ovulation and has no effect on an existing pregnancy.

Several states have enacted laws to improve rape survivors' access to the medication in hospital emergency rooms; some states also have laws that protect pharmacy employees who refuse to sell the contraceptive for reasons of conscience.