WASHINGTON—The Food and Drug Administration's recent approval of the so-called “emergency contraception kit” has provoked sharp criticism from leading Catholics and others. Although billed as contraceptives, the pills are essentially abortifacients, according to many pro-life leaders.

Known as PREVEN, the pills packets are to be taken within three days after sexual intercourse; two pills within 72 hours and two more another 12 hours later. The concept essentially repackages the idea of a “morning after” pill.

Dr. Peter Cataldo, director of research at The National Catholic Bioethics Center, said, “This is not just contraception. The newly approved ‘emergency contraception kits’ may give women another option for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, but having one more option does not make it good.

“One use of the so-called ‘kit’ will be to prevent the embryo from implanting in the womb, which is nothing short of directly taking an innocent human life,” he said.

When the FDA was reviewing the pills in 1996, a representation of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based public policy organization, testified against it.

One use of the so-called ‘kit’ will be to prevent the embryo from implanting in the womb, which is nothing short of directly taking an innocent human life.

In her testimony, Gracie Hsu said the product works as an abortifacient, incurs serious side effects, allows men to manipulate women in sexual relationships, encourages irresponsible sex, and helps shift any legal liability from physicians to individuals.

Father Frank Pavone, international director of Priests for Life, told the Register, “Some of the same groups that oppose a women's right to know the consequences of surgical abortion support these chemical means of abortion and contraception. We have no reason to think such people will be any more diligent in informing women of potential health risks of these drugs.

“Regarding the effect on the child, whether a particular drug ends a life or not is a matter for scientific investigation. What we assert is that the direct destruction of a new human life from the time of fertilization is an abortion, and is always wrong.

“There have been efforts to redefine the meaning of ‘conception’ to mean ‘implantation’ rather than ‘fertilization.’ Putting word games aside, however, the fact remains that a unique life begins with the process of fertilization,” he said.

The head of Deacons for Life, Keith Fournier, added, “These pills should not have been given FDA approval because they certainly do not promote the health of the woman nor of the unborn child.

“Rather,” he said, “it promotes the killing of the children in the womb.”

The Catholic Church's position on the issue of abortion, of course, is clear. In the 1965 pronouncement Gaudiumet Spes, it is noted: “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”

Similar teachings are contained in Quaestio de Abortu (Declaration on Procured Abortion), 1974; Donum Vitae (Instruction on Bioethics-Respect for Human Life), 1987; and, of course, Evangelium Vitae (On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life), issued in 1995. “If any Catholics were to use this kit they could not avoid the grave sin of abortion,” Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz told the Register, “ and also could incur the ecclesiastical excommunication mentioned in Canon 1398 of the Code of Canon Law.”

The bishop also was among those who link the so-called emergency contraception pills with the decline of American morality. “The tragic deterioration in sexual behavior in our country and in our culture, and the increasing disrespect for human life and human personhood are certain to be exacerbated by our government's new effort to foster immorality,” he said.

Another forceful view was given by Father Richard Welch CSsR, president of Human Life International. He said, “With the release of these home abortion kits, the Clinton administration is escalating its drive to pull the American public down the slope of moral depravity to the same level the White House.

“Not only will the actions of the FDA result in more and earlier chemical abortions, but the promotion of these so-called ‘morning after’ pills will contribute toward further erosion of morality throughout the world,” he continued.

Criticism of the pills has not only come from Catholics. The prominent writer Frederica Mathewes-Green, who contributes to the Protestant magazine Christianity Today, opposes the kit.

But, she notes that it is sometimes difficult for people to understand the magnitude of the issue. It's “the kind of thing that the public can't grasp, because the size of the unborn is so small. A prejudice of sorts, but there it is — it's a tough sell to the public,” she contends. Father Germain Kopaczynski, director of education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center, said, “Since pumping powerful potions into women's bodies to prevent pregnancy or implantation is hardly a pleasing prospect to sell to the American public, the wordsmiths of linguistic legerdemain are at work once again, redefining ‘pregnancy’ to stretch to ‘implantation’ and then using the blanket term ‘contraception’ to cover both the prevention of ovulation as well as the causing of a very early abortion.

“Confusing? That's the whole point of the exercise when you're trying to sell a bill of goods.”

Joseph Esposito writes from Washington, D.C.