Fury at Pope's pill ban
Sarah Hall and Philip Willan
The Guardian (London, UK), May 13, 1999

The Vatican came under fire from family planning groups yesterday for claiming that offering the morning-after pill to raped Kosovan women was tantamount to promoting abortion. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) was appalled by such an 'apparent indifference to human suffering', while the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was shocked by such 'insensitivity'. Marie Stopes International accused the Pope of being out of touch with the refugees, while Catholics for a Free Choice said the claim lent further fire to its demand that the Vatican lose its observer status at the UN.

The barrage of criticism followed numerous statements from the Catholic authorities since the start of the war claiming that emergency contraception the morning after pill was 'a real abortion technique'. 'Every post-coital contraception is by definition abortive,' said Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, vice-president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in one newspaper article. The Vatican reaffirmed its position yesterday. 'Use of the day-after pill is not permitted by Catholic morality because it is abortive,' said Lina Petri, its spokeswoman. 'A murder does not become less grave because of the circumstances in which it takes place.'

The morning-after pill, which must be taken within 72 hours of intercourse, only works before implantation, and so cannot be abortive.

No one knows how many Kosovan Albanian women have been raped since the war began. There have been unconfirmed Nato reports of rape camps operated by Serb soldiers. Groups working with refugee women have shipped morning after pills to camps in Kukes, Vlora, Lezja and Tirana in Albania. 'IPPF is appalled by the potential consequences of the Vatican's position and the apparent indifference it indicates towards the human suffering which will result from its stand on this issue,' said the federation's director-general Ingar Brueggemann. 'This blatant misinformation is intended to further a political agenda to prevent access to contraceptives in general and specifically to emergency contraceptives, which enables the prevention of unwanted or enforced pregnancy, clearly an urgent need of some women in a war situation such as Kosovo.'

UNFPA executive director Nafis Sadik said: 'It shows an insensitivity to the suffering of the women of Kosovo. The women of Kukes need our support and care, not condemnation.' A spokeswoman for Marie Stopes International said women in the camps were suicidal at the prospect of bearing their Serb rapists' babies and would opt for this rather than giving birth. 'It's absolutely clear from the women who have been raped that they would not want to proceed with the pregnancy under any circumstances,' she added. 'The Vatican is clearly not aware that women are suicidal if they find they are pregnant. They're out of touch with what's happening at grass roots level and it would be helpful if they could try and understand rather than make judgments.'