A matter of choice

April 29, 1999

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis said in an editorial Monday:

THE VATICAN has acquired a reputation, recently, of speaking for the voiceless. It pleads for the safety of children, the harboring of refugees, the feeding of the hungry. But even a wise preacher sometimes delivers a dud sermon, and the Vatican has done just that in speaking to the suffering of the raped women of Kosovo.

The refugees fleeing that land are bringing stories of inconceivable sexual cruelty meted out by Serb forces. Mothers tell of watching as groups of young girls were rounded up by soldiers and systematically raped by the roadside. Women tell of being raped in front of their children.

There is a way to minimize the horror -- to assure that women who have been raped in the name of war do not become pregnant. All that is necessary is access to the morning-after pill -- a medicine which, if taken soon after the rape, can prevent a pregnancy from developing. When refugee workers encounter a rape victim, they offer the pills as a matter of course. It's a humane gesture -- an attempt to avert the most heartbreaking outcome of a soldier's savagery.

But the Vatican does not call this gesture humane. Its preferred term is murder.

It notes that the morning-after pill works not by averting fertilization, but by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. In the Vatican's eyes, that makes the pill a form of abortion. It vehemently opposes the pill's use in refugee camps.

Perhaps this stand is to be expected from a religious institution that exhorts women already overburdened with hungry children to steer clear of birth control.

But it's nevertheless surprising to see the Vatican turn such a cold shoulder to the suffering of raped Kosovars. Whatever the Vatican may say, the morning-after pill isn't an abortion pill; unlike the controversial RU-486, it can't end a pregnancy already under way. It's a high-dose contraceptive that prevents a pregnancy from being established.

Women who share the Vatican's views about the morning-after pill are free to refuse it. Rape victims who want it should have the chance to take it.

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