Monday, June 30, 2014

A few notes on rights, the HHS mandate, and contraception

In light of today's Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, which exempts that company from some aspects of the horrifically unjust HHS mandate, I think it's important to note that the state is not the source of our rights. The U.S. Constitution does not grant us rights, it seeks to enumerate the rights we have in order to protect these rights.

Rights cannot be granted or rescinded by popular vote. Our constitutional order wholly depends on there being a transcendent source of rights, namely God. This is why John Adams insisted, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people."

The state never has a compelling interest to coerce people to do what is objectively and intrinsically wrong. Further, while, I suppose one can claim the freedom to engage in certain behaviors that are objectively and intrinsically wrong, one may never claim a "right" to do those things.

Contrary to popular belief concerning Church teaching, birth control is not the issue, contraceptives are the issue. Birth control is an end, not a means. Contraception is one means to the end of birth control. It is not the only means of birth control. What is at stake from the perspective of the Catholic Church (i.e., why the Church opposes the HHS mandate as unjust) is the Church holds that contraceptives are an immoral means of birth control, that the use of contraceptives, to use two terms from the language of moral theology, is "objectively disordered," or "intrinsically evil." This can be explained simply by noting that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse and a pregnancy results something went right, not wrong. The Church teaches that sexual intercourse has both a unitive and procreative dimension (Humanae Vitae par 12). This is why acting in a sexually responsible manner chiefly requires that one only has sexual intercourse with one's spouse.

Some will argue that if using artificial contraceptives, particularly "the pill," is wrong then so should be a whole slew of other medicines. While I certainly agree that people could avoid taking a lot of medications simply by living in a healthier manner, it is an apples and oranges comparison. For example, there is nothing objectively disordered about taking medication to keep your blood pressure down, even if going for a 45 minute walk everyday and eating healthier would do the same thing, or to keep your cholesterol low, even if changing your diet would have the same effect.

It is sometimes the case that a woman will be prescribed birth control pills for therapeutic reasons. This in and of itself does not present a moral problem. However, I would argue that given the effects on a woman's health by the prolonged use of birth control pills, I do not think this could be part of a long term treatment plan. While I am not a doctor or expert on matters medical, I would be wary of taking "the pill" even over a relatively short period of time. From the perspective of the Church, a woman who takes birth control pills for therapeutic reasons should abstain from sexual intercourse with her husband while taking "the pill," which also often (not always) and unpredictably acts as an abortifacient, causing a very early term chemical abortion. The so-called "morning after pill," which was a major focal point of the Hobby Lobby suit, is nothing except an abortifacient.

One's intentions do not determine the morality of an act. However, I have no doubt that many Catholics, who use various methods of contraception, including birth control pills and who even have sterilization procedures, believe they are acting in a conscientious manner, bear little or no moral culpability because those charged with forming their consciences have in many cases either not done so, or have malformed their consciences. This is one reason why we read in Sacred Scripture, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in many respects" (James 3:1-2a).

In an attempt to tie the two strands of this post together more tightly, I'll end by noting that the Church is not arguing that contraception should be made illegal in the U.S., just that employers should not be legally obligated to pay for contraception in the health care plans they offer their employees. This is not an attempt by the Church to gain access to your bedroom, but to keep the government and your employer out of your bedroom, as well as to prevent the state from violating our God-given rights.

Rising above the provisional nature of politics, in order for me to take the Fortnight for Freedom with any seriousness at all, the USCCB and individual bishops need to promote Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, which, this year, is 20-26 July, not only with as much, but with even more vigor than the "Fortnight."

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