The case of a possible rape victim who was reportedly refused treatment by two Catholic hospitals in Cologne last month has prompted a strong reaction by the Catholic Church and local victim advocacy organizations.
The local daily newspaper, the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, published an article Wednesday detailing the experience of an emergency center doctor, Irmgard Maiworm, one night last month. Maiworm told the paper that on Dec. 15, a 25-year-old woman came in to see her, accompanied by her mother.
The woman told the doctor that she had been out with friends on Friday night, and that at one point she went blank, not remembering anything until coming to on a bench in a different part of the city Saturday afternoon.
"I immediately suspected that this young woman might have been drugged with a date-rape drug, so that rape was not to be ruled out," Maiworm told the paper. The woman reportedly complained of pains and difficulty going to the bathroom and wore soiled clothes.
With her permission, Maiworm contacted the police and informed the woman of the risks of pregnancy and gave her a prescription for the "morning-after pill." She told the paper that she then called the gynecology department at the neighboring St. Vincent's Hospital to arrange for the woman to have a gynecological exam, only to be told by the doctor there that such an exam would not be possible.
According to the paper, the doctor told Maiworm that the hospital's ethics commission, after consulting with Cardinal Joachim Meisner, had decided not to conduct exams after sexual attacks, so as not to be in the position of having to advise on possible unwanted pregnancies resulting from the attacks.
Maiworm told the paper that the doctor did not change her mind, despite having been told that she had already written the woman a prescription for the morning-after pill. A colleague of Maiworm's was given a similar explanation at another Catholic hospital in Cologne, according to the paper. Both hospitals are run by the Foundation of the Cellites of St. Mary.
On Thursday, the Catholic Church denied that it was turning potential rape victims away. The archdiocese of Cologne issued a statement, saying: "We regret very much that the impression has been given to the public that rape victims are no longer able to be treated in Catholic hospitals. That is false." It said that rape victims receive necessary treatment in the hospitals, including the securing of forensic evidence.
The Foundation of the Cellites said in a statement that a misunderstanding led to the woman being turned away, and that there was an internal investigation of the case underway. A spokesman for the foundation said they regretted the misunderstanding.
The family planning organization Pro Familia was "appalled" at the news of the case, its director Sören Bangert told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. "When, after a possible rape, a woman is denied even an examination, that, to me, is a failure to render assistance," Bangert told the paper.
Bangert added that women and the police should know that Cologne University's Women's Clinic provides women assistance around the clock.