An Illiberal Mandate

After the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a well-financed campaign against the Freedom of Choice Act, a legislative initiative allegedly at the top of Obama’s to-do list. As the administration complained at the time and Catholic supporters of Obama argued, this was a bogus issue. The act itself was a crude piece of prochoice propaganda of dubious constitutionality, and it would have made little sense for Obama to begin his presidency by opening a new battle in the deeply divisive culture war over abortion.

As it turns out, of course, the administration made no such effort on behalf of its prochoice political allies. As a result, the bishops’ extreme rhetoric damaged their credibility. They appeared partisan, determined to cast the new administration as an unprecedented moral threat, and willing to cry wolf to accomplish that aim. The USCCB’s credibility took another unnecessary hit when it opposed the Affordable Care Act. In doing so, it advanced the most dubious arguments regarding the bill’s supposed funding of elective abortions, and turned its back on staunch prolife Democrats in Congress.   

Now the bishops have launched yet another attack on administration policies. In August, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a “draft” ruling that would mandate coverage of contraception and sterilization in health-insurance plans, including those provided to employees of Catholic institutions. The ruling offers an exemption from the mandate only to religious institutions that primarily employ and serve coreligionists, and whose work is strictly religious. As HHS sees it, access to contraception is a fundamental component of any health-care plan, especially for women. That claim seems commonsensical to many people, including many Catholics. The USCCB argues that compelling the church to pay for plans that cover services the church has long held to be immoral violates the religious-freedom guarantee of the First Amendment. Catholic hospitals, universities, and social-service agencies see their mission as caring for people of all faiths or none, and they employ many non-Catholics. Given this understanding of mission, inevitably there will be a degree of entanglement between any large religious institution and the modern state. That should not be an excuse, however, for imposing secular values on more traditional religious communities. Religious diversity is impossible without a degree of autonomy from the state. Is there any evidence that such autonomy poses a serious threat to liberal democracy?

The HHS decision, which has been vigorously protested by the Catholic Health Association and by Catholic universities, is under review at the White House, and a final decision about broadening the religious exemption might be made before this issue of the magazine reaches readers. It is in this context that the earlier misguided attacks on the administration by the bishops loom so large. Because of those attacks many will be skeptical of the claim that the HHS mandate is an infringement on religious freedom. That is unfortunate, because in this instance the bishops are right. The president should expand the exemption and allow religious groups to continue their invaluable—and often irreplaceable—work in a way that does not compromise their distinctive religious identity and values. 

When should religious institutions, or individuals motivated by religious beliefs, be exempt from laws that are otherwise applicable to all citizens? That has always been a hard question to answer. Conscientious objectors can be exempted from military service, but not from the taxes that pay for national defense. No exemption was made for polygamy among the Mormons, despite the fact that the practice was unquestionably central to their faith. Christian Scientists are not free to let seriously ill children go without medical care. Traditional religious groups can bar women and homosexuals from certain ministerial positions and still enjoy their tax exemption. Bob Jones University, however, lost its tax-exempt status for discriminating against interracial couples. Might Catholic universities one day lose their tax exemption because of their treatment of same-sex couples?

Finding a consistent principle behind these decisions is impossible, and current constitutional law permits fewer exemptions for religious groups than they enjoyed twenty-five years ago. Increasingly, such decisions are left to Congress and the president. Obama faces a difficult choice. Many women’s groups insist that not mandating contraception coverage places an unfair burden on women and is thereby discriminatory. Nevertheless, except when life or limb is at stake, it is hard to see what is “liberal” in coercing religious individuals and institutions. There are other ways that contraception can be made available to employees of Catholic institutions, should they choose to use it. One does not need to oppose contraception to see that, in this case, it’s far less important than the principle, and practice, of religious freedom.


Related: Bad Decision and Bad Reaction, by the Editors
Grant Gallicho's post on the Obama admnistration's decision not to expand the religious exemption.

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I think you're on shaky ground.  You note

"As HHS sees it, access to contraception is a fundamental component of any health-care plan, especially for women. That claim seems commonsensical to many people, including many Catholics."

The Obama administration know that, and probably feel free, therefore, to ignore the bishops - not because of - or principally because of - any prior political stands but because politicians, like any other close observers, can see the way the Catholic wind is blowing in America.  The Church is splitting in several ways, and the confused image that results from that creates an opportunity for opponents of religious privilege to reduce it further.  Before long, opposition to contraception and abortion may be widely seen among the general populace to be as wrong-headed and backward, if not immoral, as polygamy.  Hard times ahead.

In your carefully worded opinion I think that there is one important issue that you overlook. who speaks for "the Church"? In the primary area under discussion, that of contraception, all the statistics are clear that the overwhelming majority of married Catholics of childbearing age use some form of birth control. These people have as much if not more claim to be "the Church" than the bishops alone. These bishops, by the way, seem to have an unerring capacity to choose issues on which they will lose further credibility. To take a stand on birth control and to oppose same-sex civil marriage are not ways to advance anyone's freedom. So the bishops are speaking with one voice on behalf of a deeply-divided community, choosing a couple of issues where the tide of history is moving against them and, moreover, issues in which they themselves have no personal investment. If they get their way on this, I wonder how long it will be before the bishops begin to mandate Catholic institutions not to provide birth control coverage?

The only "religious freedom" that is being "infringed" here is the freedom of the bishops of the Roman church to tell everyone else to do, and insist that the law imposes this.  No one forces a hospital patient to choose contraception or sterilizaton.  Freedom of choice is, guess what, freedom of choice, and you hate that.  The Bishops asserted freedom to dictate limits on medical care corresponds to their insistence on their freedom to dictate in every other way, no matter how much harm they do, and their freedom to invent and spead ugly stories about everyone they don't like, of course, their freedom from criticism from any of this.   What a come-down though, from their historic freedom in dealing with dissent by way of torture and mass murder.

Seeing as there are more women than men working at diocesan, parish level and more women than men (possibly) working for other Catholic institutions, I would think these women would be in great protest at not being allowed to have their birth control covered by insurance.  To my knowledge, I have found among the Catholic women I know only a few who have not used birth control and/or sterilization in their child bearning years.  And their male spouses were behind them 100%.  So how can Bishops speak for all of the Catholics about their desires for health insurance coverage?  Are they going to fire all the women working for their institutions who use birth control or sterilization?  We may have to read or listen to their proclamations, but thank goodness we have our own private conscience to follow in these decisions.  I can see the need to disallow coverage for abortion - for that is a separate issue involving the taking of a life, not preventing conception of one.

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'''We as communities should be willing to offer such generous ransoms to pregnant unwed mothers, that only the most hard hearted of them would refuse.”’ (Before being elected President, Barack Obama quoting an unknown source when accused by “pro-life” voters of being "pro-choice." )

Didn't the President recently restrict the "morning after" pill to underage girls without their parents' consent?

About a year ago I took (for the first time) a subscription to Commonweal, wishing to have a more "progressive" journal of thought alongside the more "conservative" ones (i.e., First Things, etc) which I have enjoyed reading over the years.  I have since been pleasantly surprised by the reasonable, moderately liberal stance of most of the journal's articles.  Most of them are eminently fair and well-balanced.  However, the actual readers are another sort altogether, as witnessed by the responses thus far to this particular article.  I am disheartened at spirit of dissent against Church teaching.  I am in full accord with those who whould not, for example, hold the Church's anti-contraception stance to be a de-fide teaching of said Church, but I am appalled at the level of contempt shown towards those bishops who are simply, and modestly critiquing the hyper-secularized, if not anti-christian culture.  That Catholics should speak so contemptiously of those whose charism was given by Christ to teach and correct on matters of doctrine... well, this I find disturbing.  That culture has made its way into all areas of our government as well, which is not surprising. The bishops have a right, and a duty to speak on this matter, and to do so faithfully as is their responsiblility as part of the Church's magisterium. The Church did not begin in 1964, nor must it bend to the will of (an increasingly dying) Western laity, with all their attendant concerns.  This is a world-wide church now, and its dynamism is being shown from places outside of Rome, or New York City for that matter. And they take a very different stance than is being shown by readers here.

So I am tempted to cancel my subscription.  But, being of sounder mind, I am deciding simply not to read the reader comment section. The journal's editors can't be held responsible for the irresponsible and un-enlightened opinions of some of its readers, of which I am but one.

 

 

I agree with Perri Turchi.  The contempt shown towards the Catholic Church in this article speaks of people out of touch with their faith and STUCK on using the the birth control issue as an excuse to ignore Truth.  Where is the truth about modern birth control methods going to be spoken? Not in Commonweal! 

God forbid that any Commonweal writer should set the record straight about the actual effects of extended use of artificial birth control. God forbid that an honest staff person should do a study of these effects, although they widely exist.  Women have been lulled into accepting the myth that they can have sex without pregnancy throughout their teens and twenties, then somewhere in their mid thirties stop taking that pill and, voila! become pregnant.  No so.  Extended use of the pill, and/or other artificial birth control methods, make it necessary for women to undergo year(s)- long fertility treatments to become pregnant.  Said treatments have a detrimental effect on women's health.  High blood pressure is but one subject of concern.  The combination of artificial birth control and subsequent need of fertility treatments to become pregnant makes Planned Parenthood and fertility doctors rich.  The so-called progressives never discuss this; but they do continue their rants about women dying in childbirth.  Childbirth has been made out to be very dangerous, while years of the use of artificial contreceptives is showcased as "protecting women."  Natrual Family Planning, an effective and harmless method of limiting and/or controlling family size is either ignored or ridiculed. Under the guise of equality, promiscuity erodes female health.

The so-called "bishops extreme rhetoric" that "damaged their credibility" with "dubious arguments" is analogous to the naked emperor parading in his wonderful invisible new clothes.  Selfish liars tell people what they are supposed to think, and people allow themselves to be manipulated for fear of being alienated.  But the bishops are the only ones speaking the truth!!

Do I think Christ condemns women who use artificial birth control and/or have abortions?  Of course not!  But I would not want to be standing in judgment before Him if I were a purveyor of said products and/or abortion.

Modern man decries the abuse of nature in the ecosystem, while promoting the destruction of nature in women's bodies.  It's perverse, to say the least.  For proof, all I need do is point to the results of "liberation" since the 1960's.  Are we better off now? Only if we have the grace to discern what artificial contraception is and does to our bodies.

I regret having purchased a 5-year subscription to Commonweal.  Given the opportunity, I would cancel it and accept a refund.

Patricia McCarron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is an insightful, explanation of the Church's teaching on the issue of contraception.

Personally, I think the Church's teaching on marriage, sexuality and the family is incredibly beautiful, dignified, and uplifting.

Whether one agrees or disagrees, this short essay provides a succinct and powerful explanation of the teaching, while leaving the open-minded reader with a lot of food for thought.

http://allhands-ondeck.blogspot.com/2012/02/contraception-and-catholicis...

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