The Catholic Church and the Contraceptive Rule

| February 4, 2012 | 1 Comment

I have a somewhat grudging respect for the Catholic Church’s position on reproductive issues.  Unlike many among the anti-abortion activists, the Church’s position is logically consistent.  Fundamentally, the Church holds that human life is sacred from the moment of conception through natural death and human beings should not intervene either at the beginning or the end of life.  Granted, the Church seems to place more emphasis at the beginning of this continuum than the end.  It seems obsessed with sex and pregnancy, but when it comes to the death penalty, not so much.  Moreover, it is a bit strange that one billion Catholics are expected to take guidance on sex and procreation from a small group made up exclusively of men for whom sex of any kind is a sin.

Small wonder most modern Catholics reject the Church’s prohibition on contraceptives.  The evidence of this rejection by today’s Catholics seems clear.  Both my mother and my father came from families of eight, which was common among Catholics of that generation.  I know of only one contemporary of mine with eight children.  I’m pretty sure his situation had nothing to do with the Church’s prohibition on contraceptives.  I don’t know whether he is a Catholic, but I do know that four of the eight came all at once.

Nevertheless, as an observant Catholic, I have sympathy for the Church’s position on the recent policy mandate that requires religious institutions to provide contraceptives as a standard part of their health plans.  However unpopular, the Church’s position on contraceptives is unambiguous.  They represent a human intervention in the process by which human life is created and are, therefore, off limits.  Forcing Church institutions to subsidize something so fundamentally at odds with Church doctrine is regrettable.  As Washington’s Cardinal Wuerl points out, the Church is faced with a very difficult choice:

The mandate will allow a Catholic school one of three options:
1) violate its beliefs by providing coverage for medications and procedures we believe are immoral
2) cease providing insurance coverage for all of its employees and face ongoing and ultimately ruinous fines
3) attempt to qualify for the exemption by hiring
and serving only Catholics.

Typically on matters of politics and the Catholic Church, E.J. Dionne says it better than I could:

Speaking as a Catholic, I wish the Church would be more open on the contraception question. But speaking as an American liberal who believes that religious pluralism imposes certain obligations on government, I think the Church’s leaders had a right to ask for broader relief from a contraception mandate that would require it to act against its own teachings. The administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here.

Finding a solution would no doubt have been very difficult.  But E.J. points to a suggestion made by Melissa Rogers in the Washington Post’s On Faith blog last October.  She refers to the state law in Hawaii that seemed to thread the needle.

In terms of its definition of a “religious employer,” the state of Hawaii’s contraceptive coverage law has some of the same defects as the interim federal rule. But it appears to have taken some noteworthy steps to ensure that employees of objecting religious organizations may readily gain access to affordable coverage of contraceptives. Under Hawaii law, religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact and describing alternate ways for enrollees to access coverage for contraceptive services. Hawaii law also requires health insurers to allow enrollees in a health plan of an objecting religious employer to purchase coverage of contraceptive services directly and to do so at a cost that does not exceed “the enrollee’s pro rata share of the price the group purchaser would have paid for such coverage had the group plan not invoked a religious exemption.” A New York law has similar provisions.

So, there does seem to be a way out of this dilemma, if the Obama Administration chooses to take it.

I’ll say a prayer.

Category: Catholic Church, Obama

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