Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Response of Catholics to the HHS Contraception Mandate

A word to my fellow Catholics about the HHS contraception mandate:

The question is not restricted to Catholic institutions and hospitals. It is not, on the one hand, a violation of the right of conscience if Catholic institutions are required to pay for artificial birth control (including abortifacient birth control), yet not, on the other hand, a violation of that same right if other Catholic employers are required to do the same. More to the point, if our religion prohibits a Catholic institution to pay for artificial birth control, it also prohibits individuals to pay for it or provide it.

It is critical that this aspect of the issue be understood. The Catholic prohibition against artificial birth control applies to individuals as well as institutions. Thus, a Catholic businessperson may not, consistently with his religion, pay for artificial birth control, and this holds true regardless of whether the federal government will impose sanctions for the failure to do so.

The Catholic bishops have taken the position that compliance is not possible, even if the political and legal fight is lost. They say this because they understand that we will make ourselves ridiculous if, after asserting that the HHS mandate compels us to violate our religion, we simply comply after all political and legal remedies are exhausted. A requirement of our religion is just that, and cannot be altered or overturned by government fiat. It also applies regardless of whether we are operating a charity or engaged in an ordinary for-profit business.

This does not exclude finding ways to legitimately avoid the imposition of sanctions, provided everything is done out in the open and according to law. But payment for artificial birth control is not an option for any Catholic serious about his religion.

In the last analysis, for us, this issue is not ultimately about what politicians should be in power or how the Supreme Court should rule. It is about how we who are members of a Church that has been nourished by the blood of martyrs ought to respond to the threat of government sanctions. If we can be bludgeoned into compliance with the threat of mere monetary sanctions, the contrast between those martyrs and us will make a ridiculous picture indeed.