Contraception mandate is not an issue of money but of conscience

Joseph Infranco

2/14/2012 12:50:00 PM - Joseph Infranco

You have to hand it to the Administration; their latest proposed “compromise” to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious pro-life ministries manages to insult both their intelligence and integrity. Hitting both targets takes some talent for ineptitude.

For those not following the story, recent rules from the administration implementing “Obamacare” mandate that all employers (except churches) provide health coverage that includes contraception as well as what are arguably abortifacients. In application, a group like Priests for Life (technically not a church under the narrow exemption) or a Catholic hospital would be required to fund these “services” for employees. Never mind that some religious organizations view these as morally abhorrent, or – dare we use the word these days? – sinful.

The outcry among Catholics (and others) was immediate and fierce. Politicians from both sides of the aisle quickly saw the totalitarian-style mandate for what it was - an order to sacrifice conscience to government dictates. Knowing the Catholic Church’s long history on these issues, even some identifying as “non-religious” were shocked by the callous and aggressive overreach of such tactics.

What the administration lacks in sensitivity, however, it makes up for in political survival skills. The back-peddling started quickly – and a “compromise” was hastily offered. (The compromise has not been formally added to the rules as of this writing.) What was the concession? Simple – the “services” would still be mandated, but religious objectors would not have to pay for them; instead, insurers (read here: big, greedy corporations) would have to provide the services free. Problem solved, right? Wrong.

Putting aside the reflexive “hit the corporations” odor to the compromise (a point for another day), the concession is meaningless. First, many religious non-profits are self-insured; these will directly pay the costs regardless of any compromise. Second, religious employers with insurance still subsidize the costs against their conscience. How does the administration think insurers calculate rates for next year’s premiums? There is no such thing as “free” coverage – and an insurer’s expenses form the basis for upcoming costs to consumers. The suggestion that affected organizations will not know the difference between direct and indirect costs is plainly insulting.

The second objection is more disturbing than the “cost” sleight of hand. It is the fatuous assumption that religious moral objections will be assuaged provided someone else pays. This formulation suggests that the ultimate moral interest involved is about paying the bill, rather than participating in what one believes to be a moral evil. This says more about the state of mind of the one making the offer than anything, and how the hierarchy of money and religious convictions line up for that individual. One who does not experience a deep moral conviction is likely to assume that others see things the same way; hence the belief that playing the money card will defuse religious convictions.

In root, the objection is not about money – as odious as it is to create a mandate compelling religious organizations to fund what violates their beliefs. Only one who thoughtlessly sees moral issues as ultimately about money could think such a compromise would work. It is for good reason we are warned that that one cannot worship God and Mammon (or money, if you prefer). The mere suggestion that money solves the coercion of conscience is profoundly disturbing.

As well, glib references to how many religious adherents currently fail to follow church teachings on a particular practice miss the point. A church’s moral authority comes from its handed-down beliefs, and is not measured by the report card of any particular generation. In fact, it is during times of moral decline that a church sees its transcendent mission as most important and necessary. Those who argue from estimates of how many Catholics use birth control mistake transcendent truth with polling, or worse, popularity contests.

So in effect, the compromise – should it be enacted – still requires religious non-profits to both foot the bill and violate their religious beliefs and teachings. The creeping mandates of government compelling religious organizations to do so should shock us all; the latest attempt at “compromise” is an empty well.