Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Uganda Bishops´ Letter on "Morning After" Pill

Kampala, 23rd March 2001

The "Emergency Contraceptive Pill -- ECP":
An Appeal to Reason and Sincerity

Kampala, 23rd March 2001

Brothers and sisters,

The national media have advertised that the Commercial Marketing Strategies (CMS) a U.S. funded social marketing project, is introducing emergency contraceptive pills (ECP) in six districts of Uganda on a pilot basis (Bushenyi, Iganga, Masaka, Mbarara, Mpigi and Kampala). The ECP, also known as "the morning after pill", is a chemical product of hormonal nature. It is increasingly presented and marketed as a contraceptive (i.e.: preventing conception) that could be used in emergency situations after sexual intercourse in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. In reality, and because of the way it is used, it is an abortive product.

Considering that the use of such a product touches fundamental human values to the point of affecting human life at its beginning, this Conference feels the urgent need and duty to offer some clarifications on the issue. In doing this, we are only re-stating well-known ethical stands and principles supported by precise scientific documentation and by Catholic ethical doctrine. At the same time this gives us the opportunity to express considerations and pastoral concerns that have been growing in us, and to make an appeal.

1. The ECP in the form marketed in Uganda is a hormonal product (a progestinic hormone) that needs to be taken within 72 hours after a potentially fertile sexual intercourse. When so taken, the ECP prevents the fertilized egg implanting in the uterus (nidation) by altering the internal wall of this organ, and provokes its expulsion from the uterus. Only when the ECP is taken before ovulation can it prevent the production of the egg, and therefore work as a "contraceptive". Otherwise the ECP works as "anti-nidatory" drug. Nidation is the process through which a fertilized egg (i.e. already containing the chromosomic material of both the mother and the father) finds his/her adequate place of growth in the internal layer of the wall of the mother's uterus.

2. The distinction made by scientists between "fertilized egg", "embryo" and "foetus" for the purpose of distinguishing different phases of the same process (in scientific terms, pregnancy is the process that begins with the fertilization of the egg and ends with childbirth), cannot be used to distinguish between the "value" of the different stages of development of the same human being. Conception occurs when a spermatozoon enters the wall of an egg and genetic materials from the father and the mother join. From then on, a totally new life begins, distinct from that of the father and the mother. It is this new life that progresses to stages of development, exactly as happens to a child who becomes an adolescent and then develops into an adult human being. Therefore it is never licit to decide arbitrarily that the human being has different values in his/her different stages of development after fertilization has occurred. Hence the duty of all human beings and of legislation to protect human life at all stages of its development, from its very beginning at conception. We wish to remind everybody here that article 22.2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda affirms and protects the right to life of the unborn child.

3. The argument that the ECP is a contraceptive pill is not founded on evidence. The intended use and actual effect of the ECP is the expulsion of a fertilized egg, and therefore nothing else but an abortion procured by chemical means. The fact that the woman does not know when she takes it whether fertilization has occurred or not does not change the ethical relevance of the matter: the pill is taken to prevent the progress of pregnancy in case fertilization has occurred, and not to prevent the fertilization.

4. As a consequence we wish to re-state the Catholic ethical position: the same absolute opposition to all abortive practices applies also to the distribution, spread, prescription and assumption of the ECP. Moral responsibility extends also to all those who, regardless of their intention, directly co-operate in the promotion of the use of ECP. 5. Taking into account the announced marketing of ECP and all attempts, past and future, to introduce into our Country hidden forms of aggression against human life and in particular its most defenceless form, the human zygote and embryo, we request to all health workers and decision makers to claim and exercise their right of moral objection to the use and promotion of this drug, giving courageous witness of the absolute value of human life. It is the time for Christians and for all those who uphold the same values, to voice their convictions and concerns, and act accordingly.

6. We wish also to re-state our conviction, and consequently alert all the faithful, in line with the Encyclical Letter "Evangelium Vitae" n 13, that there is an intrinsic connection, not only of a cultural nature, but more and more evidently also of a technical nature, between contraceptive practices and abortion. They are distinct fruits of the same tree, and progressively less distinct. The subtlety by which the ECP is presented as a contraceptive, while it is, and is used as, an abortive product, confirms this connection and calls for renewed vigilance by all the Christian faithful.


1. It is sad that the day chosen for the launching of the marketing strategy of the ECP was the 8th March, Women's day, as if this new strategy could mark, in some way, a further step on the path of women's liberation. Too often women, very frequently girls, have to bear in their bodies and in their souls the consequences of the irresponsible practice of sexuality. True liberation is not achieved by adding to those the burden of the suppression of a human life: this will only deepen the wound already inflicted.

2. In addition, there is the exposure of the woman's body to a hormonal drug whose side-effects, especially in the case of repeated use, are very serious, so much so that those proposing the use of the drug feel the need to caution about its repeated use. We ask the concerned health authorities to clarify the grounds on which this drug obtained approval for sale in Uganda. We also ask them to clarify how they consider its abortive use in relation to current legislation as regards abortion. We know that the ECP is an extremely controversial matter in many societies and that an ample debate accompanied by complete information took place before its introduction or rejection. We did not see any of this in Uganda. Why?

3. With regards to the rights of women, we wonder if they are being respected when women are misled into believing that with the ECP they are not killing their child, but only preventing its conception; and that there will be no consequences for their health. Isn't this a new, more sophisticated and disguised form of violence, perpetrated on those who are provided with partial and misleading information?

We are convinced that only a consistent and unambiguous process of education to a correct and wholly human practice of sexuality can stop the spread in our society of the kind of behaviour that leads to "unwanted pregnancies" and to other dramatic consequences like HIV/AIDS. So we feel the need to renew our appeal to all women and men of goodwill, to parents, to educators, to pastors, to all actors in civil society to accept the evidence that there are no short cuts in the process of integral human development. We ask them to renew efforts and initiatives in support of families and of the education of youth. The growth of a mature human personality depends on a culture, on a tradition handed on from generation to generation, on unambiguous values consistently upheld and witnessed by mature persons: fathers, mothers, educators, role-models... that the youth encounter on their path. When a society yields to the temptation of considering this process too demanding, out of reach, unrealistic and opts for illusory short cuts, that society has planted in itself the seed of its destruction. We appeal to all women and men of good will, and to the youth, to resist this new form of aggression against life, and others that may occur, by promoting a right knowledge of facts and evidences and by actively proposing them.
The most evident, undeniable and greatest gift of the Creator to humanity is the gift of life. Accepting it means acceptance of a responsibility for the method chosen by the Creator to continue bestowing this gift on humanity: human sexuality. Only a full understanding of the unicity and demands of human sexuality, and the consequent efforts to uphold and practice the values thus derived can build a healthy society. This is the task we all have. Responsibility means responding to a gift received with an open mind and heart and pursuing consistent practices of life. All short-cuts and answers to the problems of life that do not stem from this responsibility are destined to add sorrow to sorrow, problem to problem, grief to grief, in an endless chain of self-inflicted suffering. Our intention in this statement is that of raising awareness since a level of alert has been reached. Our words are not a condemnation: but an appeal to reason and sincerity.

+ Emmanuel Card. Wamala
Archbishop of Kampala
Prelate of the Catholic Church in Uganda