NOTE: This article features some sensitive topics that may not be suitable for younger readers. Please use discretion.
Recently on Trending with Timmerie, a listener asked about Plan B, also known as levonorgestrel, inquiring whether the Church had looked into the way it works and what their stance on its use is. The listener wrote that they thought it might be a reasonable alternative to abortion, especially in the cases of rape or incest, but wanted to know where the Church stood on the issue.
Timmerie began her answer by stating that the misconception out there is that this is purely a contraceptive, no thanks to the marketing for Plan B. On the package, it is listed in bright pink as an “emergency contraceptive” that “reduces the chance of pregnancy after sex”. In fact, on the back of the packaging, it says “Will not harm an existing pregnancy.” That is false.
Plan B is capable of both preventing pregnancy as well as terminating pregnancies. The FDA has stated on its site, “Plan B acts primarily by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation). It may prevent the union of sperm and egg (fertilization). If fertilization does occur, Plan B may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb (implantation).” Basically, they have modified the definition of conception so that an egg must not only be fertilized but implanted in the womb to be considered a pregnancy. So according to the FDA, as long as Plan B ends the baby’s life before implantation, it’s still a “contraceptive.”
In conclusion, no, the Church does not condone the use of Plan B. Its status as an emergency contraceptive is not overruled by the situation, except for in one case.
Timmerie explained that in some cases of rape, Catholic hospitals will permit the use of Plan B, but only under specific circumstances: The hospital will attempt to collect data from the victim like their hormone levels, progesterone levels, and the stage of her cycle. Using this information, the hospital can determine whether or not there is any potential for the conception of human life. If the girl in question has not yet ovulated (there is no potential for life), Plan B would be acting as a contraceptive and not an abortifacient.
The reason a hospital might apply such a solution to the situation is not to prevent pregnancy at the moment it is used, but to prevent future fertilization because ovulation is always imminent.
“That is the one exception that Catholic hospitals do indeed make to utilize Plan B. Now some might say, ‘Well this is a hormonal contraceptive and the Catholic Church explicitly teaches against the utilization of hormonal contraception.’ That is correct. But in this case, the Catholic Church teaches against the use of hormonal contraception both inside and outside of marriage when two people are consenting to sex. In the case of rape, the woman has not consented to sex, and therefore, the use of Plan B is helping to prevent a new life from ever starting when there was no intention to engage in sexual intercourse to begin with.”
This is obviously a very rare occurrence and the only case in which a hormonal contraceptive may be used according to the Catholic Church: within the context of rape when no ovulation has occurred and there is no potential for human life, and therefore no potential for an abortive effect.
For more discussions on tough questions and current issues, tune in to Trending with Timmerie on weekdays at 6pm CT