An Analogy May Help Us Understand

It continues to mystify me that some people just don’t seem to understand the idea that religious liberty is directly impacted by the HHS mandate that all insurance plans cover contraceptives (including abortion-causing drugs) and sterilization.

Let me try an analogy.

The status quo for health insurance prior to the health care law and the HHS mandate was very much like having an all-volunteer army.  In that situation, if you supported the war, you were free to join and fight, to buy and sell war bonds, and to advocate for the war.  If you didn’t support the war, you could just stand aside and let others serve.  You weren’t forced to advocate for the war, tell anyone about where the recruiting stations were, or pay their expenses when they were flying over to the war zone.  Yes, even those who oppose the war have to pay taxes, but the connection between them and the war expense was so remote as to be negligible.

In fact, if you joined the military but later developed moral scruples about the war, you could apply for a discharge as a conscientious objector.   Indeed, even during times of national emergency, when there is a military draft, ample accommodation is given to conscientious objectors (e.g., the Amish) who cannot serve in conscience.  Everybody understands that involuntarily enlisting those folks in the military is a terrible violation of their religious liberty.  Of course, nobody is ever required to speak in favor of the war or buy war bonds, and nobody would ever suggest that the government could force them to do so.

Compare this now to the situation with the HHS mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage.

Prior to the mandate, it was just like the all-volunteer military.  If you were an employer and you wanted to offer coverage for contraceptives, you were free to do so.  If you were an employee who wanted contraceptives, you could either buy them yourself, work for a company whose insurance plan covered it, or obtain a private insurance policy that covered it.  If you were an insurance company that wanted to provide that coverage, you were free to do so.

But, if you had objections to contraception, you also had lots of freedom to be a conscientious objector. If you were an employer and you didn’t want to offer coverage, you didn’t have to pay for it.  Your employees could just go out and get them on their own.  You didn’t even have to tell your employees anything about contraceptives, where to get them, etc.  If they wanted to know these things, they can look them up online.  If you were an employee who didn’t want anything to do with contraceptives, you could sign up for a policy that didn’t cover them.  And if you were an insurance company that didn’t want to pay for them, you were free not to do so (in most states).  In fact, even in the states that mandated contraceptive coverage, there were ways that employers and insurance companies could avoid it.

So, prior to the mandate, there was lots of freedom for everybody to act according to their consciences.

Under the mandate, though, all this freedom is lost.  Employers will not only have to pay for contraceptives, they will have to tell their employees all about them — in other words, money will be pulled directly from their pockets to pay for this stuff, and words will be pulled out of their mouths to promote it.  Individuals will have to obtain this insurance or have to pay a fine to the government (remember the individual mandate), whether they like it or not — so money will be pulled directly from their pockets to pay for this stuff for others.  Insurance companies will also have to offer it — pay for it and promote it.

There is virtually no way out of this mandate — the mandate is very, very broad, and the “religious liberty” exemption is very, very narrow.  Very few employers — and no individuals or insurance companies — will be able to claim conscientious objector status.

Think of how this will play out in the real world.

Imagine you’re a religious sister, working in a home for unwed mothers.  You firmly believe in the sacredness of human life and oppose contraception.  Prior to the mandate, you could obtain health insurance or not, depending on how you and your religious community felt about the economics of the deal.  If you did get coverage, you could shop around and find a policy that reflected your moral objections to contraception, abortion and sterilization.  But now, under the mandate, you have to get an insurance policy or risk paying a fine to the government.

Surely, you can see the loss of religious freedom.  This sister will have to pay for and promotes practices that are directly against her religious beliefs.

Now imagine that you’re a Church. Imagine that you self-insure — in other words, you collect money from employees and put it in an account, pay some more yourself into that account, and you use that money to cover the medical expenses of the employees.  Your own staff sets up this arrangement, issues and signs all the checks, tells the employees what services are covered or not, etc.  Your HR department will tell all your employees all about the health care plan, including what is covered.  Your HR department will issue fancy brochures with the name of your church all over it (and probably the signature of your bishop someplace in there), telling them what is covered.

I hope that you can see how this mandate will impact the freedom of speech and religion here — not only will the church be forced to directly pay for contraceptives, but church officials (including the bishop, ultimately) will be forced to tell employees that he will pay for their birth control pills or sterilization.  That’s a pretty huge impact on the religious liberty of that Church and it’s employees.

So, we’re basically in the situation of the conscientious objector/pacifist who not only is being forced to serve in the military, he’s being forced to buy and sell war bonds, write pro-war propaganda, and help other soldiers do what he morally objects to.

Is there any wonder, then, that the Catholic and Orthodox bishops, leaders of many Jewish and Protestant organizations, members of Congress, state officials, and (at last count) over 200 professors, legal experts, pundits and intellectuals, along with millions of the faithful, have raised their voices in outrage over this mandate?

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4 Responses to “An Analogy May Help Us Understand”

  1. Sean Davey says:

    One of the problems with this discussion is that different facts are being bandied about. For example, I just read that the Catholic Health Association, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Sisters of Mercy, and NETWORK all approve of the new rule. Why can they approve of the change and others still find the change objectionable? Were issues addressed as their approval suggests, or not? If the religious concerns were addressed to their satisfaction, the continuing kerfuffle has the appearance of “more of the same” from the political right: Let’s score political points regardless of the religious issues.
    In addition, it’s my understanding that the insurance companies will be paying for the coverage as a service to the employers (NPR program from Wednesday) because group policies with this coverage cost less than policies that do not include this coverage. So the net effect is : the insurance companies are paying for the coverage not the employer (contrary to your claim), and the cost of the employer’s policies will go down (so no indirect payment of the coverage by the employer). As for promotion objection, if all employers are required to provide it, what promotion is needed? Everyone will know to contact the insurance company directly and the cardinal/bishop will not have to say a word.
    Back in the 60s, a Papal Commission studying the issue recommended that the use of contraceptives should be regarded as an extension of the already accepted cycle method, but this recommendation was rejected by Pope Paul VI. It begs the question of what would have been the result if another person had been pope at the time of the recommendation, such as Pope John XXIII.

  2. Ed Mechmann says:

    Why do you assume that all the Catholic and Orthodox bishops, leaders of numerous Protestant and Jewish denominations, and hundreds of legal scholars are wrong, and merely tools of the “political right”? On the other hand, why would you assume that CHA, LCWR, and NETWORK are correct about the effects of the mandate, and should have the binding authority on this issue? Do they have no political inclinations themselves? (Pardon me while I suppress my laughter)

    Here we have a situation where the entire “reproductive rights” crowd are very, very happy with the “compromise”. Doesn’t that give you some pause to consider that maybe something is not quite perfect with the deal, and maybe the sisters in LCWR are off base?

  3. Sean Davey says:

    I’m not assuming your authorities are wrong. I was wondering how the sisters can say the compromise is okay and still be Catholic institutions. Based on your tenor, I can guess your answer. As for whether the compromise is questionable because the opposing side “is very, very happy”, posits the same underlying question (is there a grey area or is it black and white), and again, I can guess your answer.

  4. Ed Mechmann says:

    Sadly, Catholic identity is extremely attenuated — if it even exists at all any more — at many institutions that call themselves “Catholic”. See for example, this study that found 48% of “Catholic” hospitals do direct sterilizations, in clear violation of Church teaching.