Friday, July 18, 2014

Phyllis Zagano on Hobby Lobby Decision: Plan B, Ella, and IUDs Are "Abortifacient Methods" (and Why Did Lisa Fullam's Response to Zagano Disappear from NCR Thread?)

Did anybody other than I notice that Lisa Fullam left a comment yesterday responding to Phyllis Zagano's statement at National Catholic Reporter about the Hobby Lobby decision of the five Supreme Catholic men, and that the comment subsequently disappeared? (Zagano on the five Supreme Catholic men's Hobby Lobby ruling: pro. Zagano on emergency contraception: con — a position she has consistently taken in various NRC articles.)

Plan B, Ella, and copper or hormonal IUDs are "abortifacient methods," she informs us, and the five Supreme Catholic men (my phrase, not hers) were absolutely correct to rule in favor of Hobby Lobby's complaint about supplying these "abortifacients" to employees under the terms of the Affordable Care Act's mandate. After having stated flatly that Plan B, Ella, and copper or hormonal IUDs are "abortifacient methods," she then goes on to state, bafflingly, 

The Plan B jury is still out, but the intent is still the same. Make the womb inhospitable to a fertilized egg, before or after implantation.

I didn't keep a copy of Lisa Fullam's comment (and for all I know, she herself removed it, though comments self-deleted in NCR threads usually have the writer stating "self-deleted"). As best as I can recall, it succinctly summarized her recent summary at Commonweal of the latest scientific evidence about the drugs in question (though not referring directly to her Commonweal article), noting that two different definitions of pregnancy (and therefore abortion) are at play in the discussion, but that, even accounting for this discrepancy of definitions, the overriding consensus of the medical sciences is that Plan B does not affect implantation of the fertilized ovum — and the German bishops have given their thumbs up to emergency contraceptives for this precise reason: they do not affect implantation.

Fullam's article also notes that the principal mechanism by which Ella acts is, according to medical scientists (as with Plan B), to inhibit ovulation, not to make the womb inhospitable for implantation, as Phyllis Zagano indicates, though there remains some uncertainty if it may have that effect in a secondary sense. Of the contraceptive methods listed by Zagano and named in the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, it's only IUDs about which there's no doubt that they inhibit implantation — but the medical definition of pregnancy does not see pregnancy beginning at fertilization but at implantation, and this is why medical science regards this device, too, as a contraceptive and not an abortifacient.

To the best of my recollection, Fullam summarized all of this succinctly in her NCR comment, and then added a concluding statement about the need to pay attention to what's true, as defined by research and reason, in these moral discussions, as we come to moral conclusions. 

And now the comment is gone. 

Lisa Fullam is an associate professor of moral theology at Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. Phyllis Zagano has, to the best of my knowledge, no expertise or training to speak of in the field of moral theology. 

If NCR censored Lisa Fullam's brief response to Zagano (and I don't know that this is why Fullam's comment disappeared, but I can't think of any other reason it would have been expunged), then is this a declaration that truth — truth as ascertained by the human mind and scientific research, working in tandem with theological truth — just doesn't matter in moral discussions, as far as NCR is concerned? 

It's enough just to declare that contraceptives are abortifacients, contra scientific evidence, and if that's believed devoutly enough, end of discussion? 

Does Dr. Zagano really not know that NCR published an article as long ago as 2010 noting that Health Progress, the official journal of the Catholic Health Association, had concluded that Plan B "works only as a contraceptive and does not cause abortions"? If she does know this, why is she writing in 2014 that Plan B is an "abortifacient method" that "make[s] the womb inhospitable to a fertilized egg"?

Is Dr. Zagano also unaware of the summary of the scientific evidence regarding Plan B offered to Commonweal readers by Eduardo Moises Peñalver in June 2012, in which he states that "the weight of scientific evidence is decidedly against the claim pressed by the Notre Dame complaint (and many Catholic opponents of the mandate) that Plan B 'operates by preventing a fertilized embryo from implanting in the womb'"? And in which he concludes,

A second likely reason mandate opponents have blurred the categories between contraception and abortion is more political. Recognizing that lay Catholics (and many non-Catholics) are more in agreement with the Church's teaching an abortion than with its views on contraception, they likely hope that by emphasizing abortion and downplaying contraception, opponents of the mandate can build on the perceived legitimacy of concerns about being required to facilitate abortion. But to the extent that this political calculation contributes to the dynamic underlying the fear that the contraception coverage mandate might someday become an abortion coverage mandate, it seems extremely shortsighted.

I'll repeat my question: does truth just not matter in moral discussions, as far as NCR is concerned? To which I'll add a second and related question: if a moral position has to be propped up by lies reinforced by censorship, is it really a moral position?

P.S. Zagano also claims that when Cardinal Timothy Dolan informed a reporter that contraceptives are "widely available" at 7-11 and all over the place, he was talking about condoms. His interview makes very clear, however, that he and the reporter were talking specifically about the Hobby Lobby case and the claim of Hobby Lobby that in covering women's contraceptive needs Hobby Lobby was violating its corporate conscience. 

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