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German bishops OK pill in rape cases

BERLIN — Roman Catholic-run hospitals can prescribe limited emergency contraception to rape victims, German bishops said Thursday as they sought to contain fallout from an embarrassing recent case in which two hospitals refused to treat a woman.

In a statement issued at the end of a regular meeting in the western city of Trier, the German Bishops Conference said Catholic hospitals still can’t provide drugs that would lead to the death of an embryo.

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The German church was under pressure to clarify its stance after two Catholic hospitals in Cologne turned away a rape victim because of concerns over the pill. Cologne’s archbishop, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, said last month that the church was ‘‘deeply ashamed by this incident because it goes against our Christian mission.’’

At the end of January, Meisner said it was ‘‘justifiable’’ in such cases to provide drugs that prevent conception.

For decades, Catholic hospitals have in cases of rape allowed the use of spermicidal wash to impede sperm from reaching an egg and drugs to prevent the victim from ovulating. Church teaching, however, holds that life begins at conception, and thus forbids the use of drugs that would intercept, dislodge, or abort a fertilized egg, according to the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University.

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