Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Contraception, the Catholic Church, and the War on Religion Flim-Flam

Furor over the Department and Health and Human Service's ruling that Catholic agencies must offer employees health coverage granting access to contraception is the latest centerpiece of the conservative media's attempt to frame the Obama White House as waging a "war on religion." To hear pundits on the right, this regulation is the greatest assault on conscience since the Spanish Inquisition. The resulting cascade of incendiary rhetoric and ill logic has been painful to witness.

For all the sound and fury, I have yet to see anyone explain whose conscience the disputed regulation violates, or how. Yes, the policy almost certainly will result in the Church indirectly paying for such practices as the use of condoms, which its teachings forbid. But this is no more a violation of conscience than a pacifist's taxes paying for a military engaged in active warfare, or an orthodox Jew's taxes paying for mail carriers that work on the Sabbath. No social contract in a pluralistic society will ever perfectly accommodate the parochial commitments of all individuals.

Moreover, the use of contraception is a question of conscience, but the availability of contraception is not- it is a question of public health. The HHS regulation will not force a single individual to use contraception. Allowing the Catholic Church to inhibit access to contraception to the myriads its agencies employs (many of who are not Catholic), however, will most certainly contribute to the spread of AIDS, hepatitis, and a host of other diseases. Conservatives are fond of complaining that nine unelected judges should not be empowered to set public policy. How much less should that power reside in the hands of a small cabal of bishops and cardinals completely unaccountable to the electorate at large?

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