Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2008


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Health Care Ethics


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Lisa S. Parker

Committee Member

Gerard Magill

Committee Member

Mark R. Wicclair


emergeny contraception, probabilism, rape, sexual assault, certitude


The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a woman is permitted to protect herself from becoming pregnant due to rape. However, scientific uncertainties with regard to emergency contraception's mechanisms of action and the inability to detect pregnancy prior to implantation have led many Catholic healthcare facilities to limit a rape victims access to emergency contraception (EC), due to what the Church construes to be EC's potentially abortifacient properties. While the science is uncertain, the withholding of EC by Catholic healthcare facilities treats the science as settled, true, or certain and may be experienced as oppressive by rape victims. The Catholic Church has historically acknowledged the difficulty of practical moral decision making in cases where there is an absence of logical certainty, and the provision of EC to rape victims is such a case. While most Catholics are not aware of the moral method of probabilism, it is a legitimate system of moral discernment within the Catholic tradition which asserts that an uncertain moral obligation cannot be imposed as though it were certain. This paper argues that probabilism is a uniquely appropriate moral method with which to consider the problem of EC in Catholic healthcare facilities, because it is Catholic in origin and specifically addresses the problem of certainty and certitude in moral decision making. The use of probabilism would allow Catholic hospitals to make practical moral decisions about EC, despite a lack of demonstrative proof. Further, the use of probabilism would allow for the inclusion of EC among the morally permissible treatment options for rape victims, thereby enabling informed consent, promoting fair access to the standard of care, and fostering the compassionate care that is foundational to the mission of Catholic healthcare.