HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut State Victim Advocate James Papillo knew he would stir up a hornet’s nest of criticism. He appeared March 6 before the state Legislature’s Public Health Committee to argue against proposed legislation. The measure would force Catholic hospitals to prescribe so-called “emergency contraception” to all rape victims who asked for it.

“I felt compelled to do so because of my role as the state victim advocate,” said Papillo, who is a permanent deacon at Sacred Heart Church in Bloomfield, Conn. “The reason is this: I have come to realize that some groups will use crime victims, and the cause that they have, in order to further other agendas.”

Papillo was right about the hostile reaction. The day after he described the proposed bill as “a solution in search of a problem” that was being promoted to advance the pro-abortion and anti-Catholic agendas of its backers, Connecticut Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan said that the victim advocate should resign immediately for “using his office to disguise a personal, political statement” against the legislation.

The Connecticut bill would require all hospitals in the state to provide “emergency contraception” — high doses of the same hormones used in oral contraceptives — to rape victims. Currently, under the terms of the sexual assault protocol for Connecticut Catholic hospitals, Catholic hospitals will only prescribe such medication after a victim has been tested and is found not to be pregnant (because the drugs can’t prevent a pregnancy that has already begun) or not to be in the ovulation stage of her cycle (because when taken during ovulation the drugs can act as abortifacients, killing a newly conceived human life, rather than as contraceptives).

When a rape victim is found to be ovulating, she is told why the Catholic hospital will not prescribe the medication and is informed of other nearby medical facilities where it can be obtained if she desires.

Religious Freedom

Barry Feldman, general counsel of Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, said that the proposed state bill appears to be targeted specifically at the religious-freedom rights of Catholic hospitals.

Feldman noted that there is no medical urgency to prescribe the medication, as it is effective for up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse. And all of the state’s four Catholic hospitals are located in large urban centers, near non-Catholic medical facilities that will prescribe to women who are refused the medication.

“First and foremost, it’s a freedom-of-religion issue,” said Feldman. “It seems to us to be unfair to the Catholic hospitals and a violation of our religious rights, when it really isn’t burdensome for the rape victims to obtain the drugs at another facility.”

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, said she is “kind of comfortable” with the current situation with respect to Catholic hospitals referring rape victims who are refused the medication to other hospitals, the Hartford Courant reported March 4. However, she has not ruled out signing the legislation if it is passed by the Legislature.

Supporters of the legislation — who include many prominent state Democrats such as Lt. Gov. Sullivan and the two leading candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. — argue that it is cruel to force victims to go to a second medical institution after having already endured the trauma of rape.

Malloy, a Catholic whose wife runs a rape crisis center, charged at a press conference that Rell’s position was “completely unacceptable, unreasonable and, quite frankly, shocking,” the Courant reported.

In an interview with the Register, Malloy said, “I believe that when a woman is raped, she needs to have access to the same treatment regardless of what hospital she reports to.”

Malloy denied that “emergency contraception” ever has an abortion effect. And even if it did, he said, “ultimately that’s a decision for the woman to make.”

He said that while he thinks “religious freedom is very important,” there is no reason to allow Catholic hospitals in Connecticut to continue to refuse to prescribe the medication to some rape victims. “There are many Catholic hospitals across the United States that have not adopted that position,” Malloy said.

Malloy dismissed Papillo’s assertion that pro-abortion and anti-Catholic sentiments are the driving force behind the “emergency contraception” legislation, rather than concern for rape victims. Said Malloy, “I think his arguments are preposterous.”

James Papillo

Papillo countered that there is nothing unreasonable about the treatment of rape victims under the terms of the Connecticut Catholic hospitals’ sexual assault protocol.

“As a state victim advocate, I never heard of this as a problem,” said Papillo, an attorney who has served in the post since 1999. “No one has ever called me to complain about this, and those organizations [backing the legislation] never brought this to my attention.”

Papillo said that it is not helpful to exploit victims to advance agendas that are largely unrelated to their real problems. And, he said, it’s unrealistic to demand that other “weighty rights” like religious freedom be sacrificed to address a problem that virtually never arises.

“What’s driving this?” Papillo asked. “Pro-abortion and anti-Catholic groups — the Catholic Church doesn’t do it the way they want, and they’re going to ignore the fact that there are these weighty federal and state constitutional rights. They’re saying, ‘We want what we want, and we’re going to force the Catholic Church to give it to us.’”

Papillo said that he doesn’t make an effort to “parse out” his Catholic faith from his secular responsibilities as victims’ advocate, but he stressed that his decision to speak out on the issue was not motivated by his religious beliefs.

“Citizens should be outraged by this,” Papillo said. “But as state victims advocate, I also should be outraged. My job is to represent all crime victims in this state in a reasoned, rational way. That’s my charge — I’m a watchdog.”

Summed up Papillo, “When I know that the problem here is non-existent, then I need to stand up, and that’s what I did.”

Tom McFeely is based in

Victoria, British Columbia.