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For a brief period of time, a friend fostered a teenage girl who was on track to become a ward of the state. The girl had been removed from her parents six times and placed in foster care, having suffered mostly from parental neglect. The girl was 14 years old, had a boyfriend involved in gang activity, was possibly sexually active, and had had no religious training or practice. Her caseworker suggested that my friend make an appointment to get her on birth control, as if the girl became pregnant, she and her child would both become wards of the state.

I was troubled by the case. As a Catholic, I oppose the use of artificial contraception, but perhaps, considering a young girl with few advocates, little education, and the worst circumstances, birth control would be the most charitable option. An unplanned pregnancy would increase the financial drain on the state, and continue the cycle of poverty and abuse in this young woman's life.

The Health and Human Services Mandate that requires all insurers to provide contraceptives at no cost to employees, seems to take aim at cases like these, preventing unintended pregnancies by providing universal access to contraceptives. A recent report from the Center for Disease Control states that about 14 percent of sexually active teenage girls do not use birth control. "The report finds that teens need sex education, the opportunity to talk with their parents about pregnancy prevention, and those who become sexually active need access to affordable, effective birth control."

The girl's foster mother, who is also Catholic, saw things differently than the CDC. When faced with the possibility of putting a 14-year-old girl on birth control, she said, "Not in my house."

"Putting her on birth control would give her a pass to continue with that behavior. Then this unsavory guy would be hanging around wanting sex, which is not safe for her, or our family."

The role of a guardian is not to provide a scuba suit so that a child can keep swimming in toxic water. It's to pull the child out of toxic water, prevent her from making unhealthy alliances with poor potential mates at a vulnerable time in her life, and teach her about true love, so that the girl who is unfit to be a parent at 14, will be fit when she reaches adulthood.

This is where conscience clauses come in. Rather than thinking like Margaret Sanger, who advocated the use of birth control "to stop the multiplication of the unfit" the Catholic sexual ethic looks beyond the good of the state to see the ultimate good of the person.

The USCCB has done a very good job of speaking out in protection of such conscience clauses. If people do not have the freedom to practice their core religious beliefs, there's a good chance such valuable messages will be lost to society. The message that individuals need more protection than the state, is a message that already struggles for a hearing in the midst of the loud cultural din that aims to solve problems with the easiest possible solution. Take a pill to lose weight, for instance. Do not change your behavior, but take chemical precautions to divorce the behavior from its natural outcome.