Saturday, February 4, 2012

Regrounding the HSS Mandate Debate

The issue of contraceptives is not a new issue; however, due to recent mandates from the Nation’s Capitol, we have seen a recent increase in excitement and energy with regards to the dialogues revolving around the use, and dispensation, of contraceptives. This letters considers Mr. Evan Graham’s “Protecting the right to choose,” which in itself serves as a response to the letter the Notre Dame Right to Life Club published on Feb. 1.

Typically (and this is evident by the ‘dialogue’ between Mr. Graham and NDRTL), the discussion has two parties talking right past each other. You have, on the one hand, one noting that a contraceptive act halts the potentiality of life (the natural result of a sexual encounter) and, on the other hand, the claim that a woman has a right to choose, not only whether or not she can use contraceptives (that is, that it should be readily available and the choice of contraceptives is up to the woman, rather than the government), but whether or not she carries the baby that would be conceived in the womb. (N.B. I am avoiding the discussion of abortion here; I merely mention the choice to engage in sexual, and therefore reproductive intercourse, and choose not to conceive altogether).

There are a good number of points, then, that Mr. Graham glosses through rather quickly. First he states that it is a choice of whether or not the contraceptives are used. He then jumps immediately to the point that it is a most difficult choice. He then jumps to a quite different discussion in hopes of justifying his point on the right of the woman: his direct repudiation of the original article’s quote of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. After fundamentally disagreeing with the Church, he switches gears once again and enters the current debate of whether or not a religious institution ought to be required to provide contraceptions.

Undoubtedly, there are some at Notre Dame, even Catholics, who disagree with the Church’s teaching on contraceptives. Yet, the Church teaches "Without the [unitive and procreative] aspects the sexual act is stripped of its meaning, and man and woman fail to give themselves to each other in complete love." (§ 2399) These two cannot be separated. One can truly not be unitive if they are procreative and vice versa. The decision, he argues, “whether or not to have children involves many factors in a person's life, such as finances, the woman's job and the current health of both parents.” I add the same goes for getting married. The mistake here is separating the procreative from the unitive. As the Code of Canon Law clearly notes, “For matrimonial consent to exist, the contracting parties must be at least not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.” (Can. 1096 §1.) What Mr. Graham offers is a mere hind-sight consideration to validate the contraceptive; these same issues and factors are to be considered before the marriage is even contracted.

The decision “to hold off on having children or to not have children” is, then, equally a decision to get married or not get married. Further still, contrary to what he wrote, the procreative act defines the love expressed between two people in indescribable ways; the very procreative act allows man to take part in the great act of love that is God Almighty’s act of creation; his reditus of an outpouring of love.

This is not the current debate, however. Regardless of your moral leanings, the Church has a strong stance contra contraception. The current debate is rooted in our post-Lockean liberal state that is founded upon a notion of Natural Rights rather than the Natural Law. Fundamental to this then, is the right of religious freedom and the notions of separation of Church state. Conflated together in his article, Mr. Graham discusses the right of a woman on the private level to use a contraceptive and offers a counter-theology to the Church’s teaching on a woman’s right to use a contraception; yet he misses one last fundamental point to this recent spark of controversy surrounding the contraception debate at large -- that of religious freedom.

Just as people are entitled to their own religious beliefs, views on contraception, etc etc, so too are religious institutions entitled to choose whether or not they offer contraceptives. There is no doubt that there are students at Notre Dame, even Catholic students, who disagree with the moral code upon which the university is founded; the very ethos that permeates Our Blessed Mother’s institution. However, to state that the university is somehow failing to give a basic right to woman rests merely on a view that woman have a fundamental right to use a contraceptive. Further, the last point that it strips that “right” away from those who are not Catholic is to me quite absurd. We have in this country alone, a myriad of institutions of various backgrounds and foundations. Now imagine yourself who just happens to be an avid lover of all things pork decides to attend a Jewish institution;
would you honestly be offended or even surprised that pork is not served in the dining halls? Of course not!

Of course, this is the fundamental issue that is highlighted by the recent debate; whether or not a religious institution ought to be obligated and mandated to perform an act that stands in complete opposition to the religious views of the institution. Leaving the fact that one has a state-given right to contraceptives aside, this mandate atrociously disregards any notion of religious freedom in the name of a radical secularism. Under the guise of liberal politics and a free democracy, a prejudice against the Catholic Church and her teachings on the dignity of the human person runs free (Here, Newman's Apologia pro sua vita applies). What is accomplished in this country is a certain kind of plurality of religions where no religion has any authority to assert or proclaim its doctrines in the public sphere; for how can the Church tell a woman whether she can use a contraceptive? Religion, then, is pushed into a purely private and individualistic sphere. That this is problematic for the Church doesn't take much explanation: Christ commands his Apostles to go out and Baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Yet, progressing even further, we now have the Church in a position in which it cannot uphold its owns fundamental teachings!

Students who choose to attend a Catholic university do so for a good number of reasons. In the choosing of a university it is evident that the ethos is going to be present in the university’s history and academic principles. Does it come as a shock to any, upon arriving on campus and seeing our Blessed Mother, gold upon the dome, that this university stands with a fundamental foundation in the teachings of the Church? Therefore, those who choose to attend a Catholic university should know and accept that they are involving themselves in a certain environment in which Catholicism is taught and lived out by the faculty, staff, and even the students. For a Catholic university to deny its Catholic roots, to compromise the Catholic ideals, to forfeit Catholic morality does a grave disservice to the institution, its faculty and staff, its alumni, benefactors, and most importantly its students, who have paid dearly for a Catholic education.

For Notre Dame to offer contraceptives is not an issue. If she wants to maintain her role as a Catholic university, she cannot compromise.
What is at stake here is not the right of one to use or not use a contraceptive; in this country, that is already the case despite the great danger a contraceptive culture can do to a society. What is at stake here is a question of religious liberty. Notre Dame does not and would not be forcing those in disagreement into agreement with Her Teachings; they attend or work there out of their volition (and this of course is quite right as a purely obligatory approach to religion and morality can never succeed). For those who feel that their “rights” are being infringed upon, as Mr. Graham claims is the result, there are numerous drug stores in South Bend or Mishawauka. But to ask a Catholic institution to offer contraceptives is as ridiculous as asking a Jewish family to eat pork. It is not a question of rights to contraception; it is a question of the government forcing a religious institution to perform acts contrary to their beliefs. That is to say, the government is committing a horrific overstep contra religious freedom. The rights of religious conscience and liberty for one cannot compromise the conscience and liberties of another; for then it is no longer liberty but tyranny. And tyranny has no place in a university; where the freedom to explore the realms of academia must prevail in order to continue to seek the truth for which man longs.

-Michael Black is Right to Life's first contributing blog author. He graduated from Notre Dame in 2011 with majors in philosophy and theology. He is a former member of Right to Life, and he is currently a seminarian for the Diocese of Covington.


Wandering Heart said...

Very well put. Thanks!

Doug Indeap said...

Your argument is predicated on the erroneous assertion that the law forces employers to offer their employees contraceptives. It does not. Notwithstanding wild cries to the contrary, the law does not force employers to act contrary to their beliefs--unless one supposes the employers' religion forbids even the payment of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion).

Questions about the government requiring or prohibiting something that conflicts with someone’s faith are entirely real, but not new. The courts have occasionally confronted such issues and have generally ruled that the government cannot enact laws specifically aimed at a particular religion (which would be regarded a constraint on religious liberty contrary to the First Amendment), but can enact laws generally applicable to everyone or at least broad classes of people (e.g., laws concerning pollution, contracts, fraud, negligence, crimes, discrimination, employment, etc.) and can require everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds, to abide by them. Were it otherwise and people could opt out of this or that law with the excuse that their religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate. When moral binds for individuals can be anticipated, provisions may be added to laws affording some relief to conscientious objectors.

Here, there is no need for such an exemption, since no employer is being "forced," as some commentators rage, to act contrary to his or her belief. In keeping with the law, those with conscientious objections to providing their employees with qualifying health plans may decline to provide their employees with any health plans and pay an assessment instead or, alternatively, provide their employees with health plans that do not qualify (e.g., ones without provisions they deem objectionable) and pay lower assessments.

The employers may not like paying the assessments or what the government will do with the money it receives. But that is not a moral dilemma of the sort supposed by many commentators, but rather a garden-variety gripe common to most taxpayers--who don't much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action of the government. That is hardly call for a special "exemption" from the law. Should each of us feel free to deduct from our taxes the portion that we figure would be spent on those actions (e.g., wars, health care, whatever) each of us opposes?

Notre Dame Right to Life said...

Because Notre Dame is self-insured, Notre Dame is among many religiously-objecting institutions that would have to pay directly for these services.