Conscience and Contraception

In the wake of the recent HHS regulations concerning women's preventive services, and in the amidst the outcry over the allegedly much-too-narrow religious exemptions, Matthew Archbold of Creative Minority Report accuses the Catholic Health Association’s Sister Carol Keehan of being pleased that the Obama administration is requiring health insurance companies to cover contraception without a co-pay.

I’m going to assume that Archbold just egregiously misread the Catholic Health Association’s letter of response to the new requirements because the letter itself clearly says that the association “is very concerned about the inadequacy of the conscience protections with respect to the coverage of contraception.” Rather, the CHA is pleased—nay, “delighted”—that “health insurance coverage must include critical screening services without any cost-sharing.”

Archbold’s primary complaint, however, regards Sr. Keehan’s claim that the administration “does not intend to include abortifacient drugs as covered contraception,” a statement that puts her at odds once again with pro-life groups and the USCCB. Archbold calls her claim a “shocking and disgusting untruth.” Perhaps because the allegedly offending drug, ella, was approved by the FDA without being classified as an abortifacient, Sr. Keehan chose not pick a fight with the administration over its classification when publicly expressing concern about the new regulations. Presumably she wants to persuade the HHS to broaden the religious exemptions. Or perhaps she agrees with the FDA.  In any case, she certainly provoked pro-lifers with her statement. And the banners have risen!

I imagine the outcry over conscience protections and the heated infighting among Catholics strikes most of our society as not a little crazy. After all, despite the official teachings, most Catholics use contraception and see nothing wrong with their doing so. The immorality of contraception makes no sense to our contemporary culture. People don’t buy the religious arguments against its use; nor are they persuaded by non-religious arguments, such as those premised on the biological purpose of the sexual organs constituting some kind of absolute moral norm.

Moreover, we generally uphold contraception as a right, something worthy of public support and funding, even if some fringe crazies find it morally objectionable. And don’t we all pretty much have to support something with our tax dollars we find objectionable? Seriously, what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that some Catholics not unreasonably want to practice their faith freely and without being forced by the government to cooperate materially with something their religion has always deemed immoral.

Frankly, whether the Catholic Church’s position on contraception is right on the money or just plain nutty, the HHS is acting rather stupidly by so clearly infringing on religious liberty. It fuels the notion that the Obama administration doesn’t care about protecting people of faith, and it’s likely to provoke a long-term backlash. Issuing the regulations but with stronger and broader religious exemptions may not have pleased all Catholics or others morally opposed to contraception, but it would have stifled complaints about the infringement upon religious liberty.

Besides, would the proposed benefits of the new regulations have suffered much as a result? (VN)