From the Could Have Seen This Coming a Mile Away Department: Bishop Lori of Bridgeport -- chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom -- has sent a strongly worded letter to America magazine in response to their strong editorial on the contraception-coverage mandate, "Policy, Not Liberty."The bishop writes:
The March 5th America editorial takes the United States Bishops to task for entering too deeply into the finer points of health care policy as they ponder what the slightly revised Obama Administration mandate might mean for the Catholic Church in the United States. These details, we are told, do not impinge on religious liberty. We are also told that our recent forthright language borders on incivility.
At which point he crosses that border, delivering a thoroughly uncivil scolding to the editors of America.
Ignoring the substantive theological critique made by the editors, Lori rehearses the points you've probably memorized by now. Here's one:
What details are we talking about? For one thing, a government mandate to insure, one way or another, for an abortifacient drug called Ella. Here the details would seem to be fertilized ova, small defenseless human beings, who will likely suffer abortion within the purview of a church-run health insurance program.
Never mind that Ella is not designed to act on existing pregnancies, that its primary function is to delay ovulation, that the science on its abortifacient properties in the human body remains inconclusive, and that it is only in animal studies where it's been shown that very high doses of the drug terminated pregnancies. (An overdose of aspirin would have the same effect.) The bishop would rather score rhetorical points by making it seem as though the editors of America believe the bishops should not concern themselves with innocent human life. Nonsense.Has Bishop Lori forgotten his 2007 decision to allow Catholic hospitals to comply with Connecticut state law requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims? The law held that patients must have a pregnancy test before receiving such drugs, but not an ovulation test, as the bishops wanted. (At the time, Plan B [levonorgestrel]was the only FDA-approved emergency-contraception drug. The statute doesn't specify which drug should be provided, only those deemed safe by the FDA. Perhaps Ella is now provided to rape victims -- trying to run that down.) Arguing that Plan B can act as an abortifacient, the bishops sent a letter to the governor pleading with her not to sign the bill. Cooperating with the law, the bishops wrote, would force Catholic institutions to act in "direct opposition to our religious belief that life begins at the moment of conception and as such is a serious violation of a basic tenet of the Catholic faith."That was May 2007. Just four moths later, the bishops experienced "an evolution in thinking," according to a spokesman for the Connecticut Catholic Conference, owing to "the state of existing science and the lack of definitive teaching by the church and the fact that there are many who are affiliated with the church that believe the ovulation test isnt necessary. Or, as the Connecticut bishops put it in their statement explaining their reversal: "The administration of Plan B pills in this instance cannot be judged to be the commission of an abortion because of such doubt about how Plan B pills and similar drugs work and because of the current impossibility of knowing from the ovulation test whether a new life is present."In other words, five years ago the bishops of Connecticut made a prudential judgment to allow Catholic hospitals to provide rape victims with pharmaceutical agents the USCCB now routinely refers to as "abortion-causing drugs." That would be the same sort of judgment Bishop Morlino of Madison made when he decided to comply with Wisconsin law and provide contraception coverage to diocesan employees.If the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was planning to make an actual moral-theological argument at some point -- one that goes beyond repeating that Catholic institutions will be "forced to provide for" services inimical to church teaching -- now would be a good time. While they're at it, maybe someone could point out to the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom that not all women can tolerate the outmoded pills offered at Walmart for $9 a month.