John Leo
Here in New York, Cardinal Edward Egan had a little chat with Gov. George Pataki about whether Catholic institutions should be forced to provide contraceptive services and the "morning after" pill for their female employees. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Planned Parenthood think they should. The cardinal disagrees. He thinks it's not a legitimate use of state power to force churches and religious institutions to violate their own principles.

This is a wildly controversial idea in Albany, where Silver and the Assembly Democrats have torn the usual "conscience clause" out of two health bills it passed for women. The Republican-dominated state Senate passed the bills with clauses allowing religious groups to opt out of some provisions on moral grounds. The bills require employers to offer a broad array of reproductive services in their health plans, including mammograms, pap smears, osteoporosis screening, contraception and various fertility procedures, some of which the Catholic Church considers immoral.

This whole progressive package is in jeopardy because it got tangled in Planned Parenthood's national campaign to bring the churches (and orthodox synagogues) to heel. PP and its allies in the abortion wars are out to eliminate conscience clauses everywhere. They even have a brand-new word to make acting on conscience sound backward and shady: "refusal clauses." With a little prodding, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission bought the dubious argument that "conscience clauses" are violations of anti-discrimination law.

So far the public and the media have paid little attention to the debate, because contraceptive funding seems like a ho-hum issue. Most people, including most Catholics, do not consider contraception immoral. But some religious leaders think they are on a slippery slope. A slide could lead to mandatory funding of the abortion pill, euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Many churches feel they have to make a stand here, before they are dragooned into funding new abortion medicines, cloning and suicide pills. Joe Loconte of the Heritage Foundation wrote: "It is no whimsy to worry when people are forced to bankroll whatever reproductive practices are in vogue -- today chemical abortion, tomorrow cloning."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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