Emergency contraception policy: how moral commitments affect risk evaluation
AbstractBased on the beliefs that human life and pregnancy begin at conception, that human life has equal moral value regardless of its development stage or form, and that emergency contraception (EC) has mechanisms of action that may induce abortion, Catholic health care facilities are not permitted to provide EC to rape victims if any possibility exists that a woman may have conceived due to her rape, even if that possibility is unverifiable . The Catholic Church claims that the mechanism of action of EC is uncertain and that some studies have concluded that disruption of implantation, which the Church considers to be abortion, may occur. Drawing on insights from feminist epistemology (e.g. work by Helen Longino) and arguments at the intersection of bioethics and philosophy of science (including work by Robert Veatch and Grant Gillett), we argue that the Church's position on this matter is based on uncertain (and misinterpreted) scientific claims and that particular normative (moral and theological) commitments on the part of those wielding power over Church Law lead to a weighing of probabilities in a manner consonant with the preservation of that power. In this paper, we examine how normative commitments infuse or infect the assessment of probability and influence ethical policy. We also examine how probabilism, a moral method that operates within the constraints of Catholic normative commitments, offers an alternative approach which respects, acknowledges, and maximizes an individual's ability to determine probable reason for moral action in the face of irreducible uncertainty.