By John Stang
Via ABC News:
Catholic parishioners around the country were read letters this morning written by church leadership railing against an Obama administration ruling that requires employers to provide health insurance plans that include contraceptive coverage.
Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the guidelines but Catholic hospitals, colleges, and social services fall under the umbrella of institutions covered by the decision.
Originally introduced last summer, the decision was lauded by abortion rights supporters. But Catholicism considers some forms of contraception termination of life and religious leaders say adherence would fly in the face of the tenets of their faith. Critics also charge it would be a violation of the Constitutional right to freedom of religion.
Since I am Catholic, I got to hear one these letters written by individual bishops on Sunday. Despite them all being written differently, the message was pretty much the same “this new regulation violates religious liberty and forces the Roman Catholic Church to violate one of its moral doctrines.” I have a few thoughts this matter.
First, is a philosophical one. The role of insurance is to protect against an unforeseen event that could occur in the future. Health insurance does this on the level of, well, health related issues. Insurance companies can chose what to cover and not cover and who they want to cover. Businesses and nonprofits could be extended the same courtesy if it violates a moral tenet. On the other hand, if a group was against giving chemotherophy treatments to employees because they thought radiation and keeping life going was intrinsically wrong, then we might condemn that action for hurting the common good. So, there is an imperative to look at when considering this topic of which ethics are good and which could be harmful? That continuum is not an easy one though.
Second, is a policy perspective and a practical point. I’m guessing that if someone works for a Catholic related organization, they already consider themselves to be pretty supportive of the doctrines of the Catholic Church. So, very few people employed by Catholic Church would probably have an abortion to begin with. However, a large number of Catholic women do use contraception against the Church’s teaching anyway, which in my view could be kind of a losing battle against the tide of modernity. I think both these questions, abortion and contraception should not be lumped together because the policy and ethical debates are quite different for both.
Third, is for liberals. There are two values of liberalism and progressivism being debated here, for the sake of argument I will lump both together here. One is the notion expanding the writes for women to chose abortions and contraception if they need it without worry, which I support. The other is letting religious organizations decide have the freedom to chose, although the continuum does get grey really fast. This is where progressives and liberals do have to chose one value over the other. Is it a choice of coverage or choice or protecting religious liberty. Both have conflicting problems here and are not easily solvable.
Finally, I think this type of religious activism is a good thing. We just saw the impact of grassroots organization on tabling the SOPA/PIPA legislation. Not to mention the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party Movements have increased political engagement at the local level. With the Catholic vote hardly a united front, a topic like this could be a good grassroots motivation that the Church could use to rally Catholics together. From a political science perspective, it will be interesting to see where this goes.
None of these are easy questions. There will be some conversation going on about religious liberty and the ethical understanding of insurance. I expect several court challenges and strong wind towards grassroots religious activism.