Sunday, July 1, 2012

HHS, Contraception, and Religious Liberty

Some friends and my wife and I wrote this several months ago with the intention of publishing it as an op-ed in a newspaper.  The two newspapers to which we submitted it declined it, so I post it here for the Fortnight for Freedom.

The Obama administration has recently decided to force Catholics to violate their consciences and religious beliefs by requiring that they provide coverage for contraception and sterilization procedures.  An outcry has rightfully arisen against a powerful and highly secular government that has targeted the unpopular beliefs of a religious minority.  Equally disturbing, however, and more overlooked, is the fact that this government has now claimed the final authority over the human conscience.  

 States have claimed authority over the human conscience before, when an equally secular and hostile to Christianity Roman empire required Christians to burn incense to Caesar, when Henry VIII tried to force Thomas More to approve his divorce and remarriage, or when Stalin sought to purge religious freedom from his empire.  There was no room for individual freedom of conscience; the only freedom was the freedom to act and think as the state commanded, the only conscience the state conscience.  

The human right to religious freedom, however, and a person’s right to follow his religion and conscience is undeniable.  One could only ever hope to justify trampling this right by claiming that contraception is so absolute and necessary a right as to overrule the right of freedom of religion and conscience. Consequently, the government and its defenders argue that contraception is a matter of necessary medical care as well as a matter of women’s rights and health. Yet, it is very clearly none of these things. 

At least three problems exist with the claim that contraception is a right.  First, the claim that contraception is necessary medical care is highly doubtful.  The purpose of medical care is to correct diseases or disorders and promote the proper and healthy functioning of the human body.  Contraception certainly does not do this.  Fertility is not a disorder and pregnancy not a disease.  In this way, contraception actually interferes with the natural and healthy functioning of a woman’s body, causing her reproductive system to become disordered. 

Second, there is no argument from necessity, only personal desire.  A person may strongly want to have sex and strongly want to avoid pregnancy while doing so, but there is no logical inference from this to the claim that contraception is necessary.  Two “wants,” however strong, do not equal a need and personal desires, however strong, do not make a right.  Though it may be necessary to avoid pregnancy for serious medical reasons (though such situations are rare), it does not follow that there exists a right to contraception.  In this case one may either practice abstinence or a sophisticated fertility awareness method such as the Creighton, Marquette, or sympto-thermal models.  

 Third, there is no right to enjoyment of a thing (sex) and avoidance of its natural consequences (pregnancy).  The natural end of sexuality is reproduction, whether a person may wish to acknowledge it or not.  To say that one has a right to have sex and avoid pregnancy is like saying one has a right to overeat and not gain weight.  

Nonetheless, Catholics do not seek to impose their beliefs on anyone.  We simply object to being forced to pay for or provide coverage for something we consider to be immoral. It is gravely insulting to suggest  that our consciences can be assuaged by the cheap accounting trick that the current administration has styled as an “accommodation.”

Under the guise of science and women’s rights, the government has launched a short-sighted attack on religious liberty and freedom of conscience.  It has begun by attacking an unpopular Catholic doctrine, but it will not end there.  By the same logic, it may force Christians to pay for or provide abortions, attack the Jewish practice of circumcision, require burning incense to Caesar, and end with either state control of religion, or its ban from both public and private life.

The government now decrees that one must render to Caesar that which decidedly does not belong to Caesar at all, one’s conscience.  Bribery by the state of those governed in exchange for political power is an old and hallowed political tradition.  Roman emperors appeased the populace with bread and circuses; modern politicians seek political power through the offer of government grants, earmarks, and other inducements to individuals and groups.  Today, the state turns to a new prize.  Offering “free” contraception, it seeks not only political power, but authority over the human conscience.  If the American conscience can be bought for so mean a price, the end of American liberty may be at hand.

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