Is Contraception a Right?

Let’s get something clear as swiftly as possible:

I’ll be referring to the HHS Mandate with the understanding that Obama’s compromise hasn’t changed the moral situation one iota.

The shrillest of the various cries demanding that faithful Catholic institutions pay for the contraceptives, abortifacents, and sterilizations of their clients goes something like this: “Women have a right to contraception! The Catholic Church is taking away women’s rights!”

The majority of individuals who have emailed and Facebooked me to make this brilliant argument? Severely panicky dudes. And of course: Boys everywhere tremble that a religion still teaches that fertility isn’t some scary disease. After all, this novel concept could seriously affect how American men view women!

Which we simply can't allow!

So all together now, “Women’s rights!” Bam, instant moral high ground, the Church happily framed as an oppressive, medieval, immoral institution — her opponents renegades, activists, stick-it-to-the-man-ernites, so on and thus forth, until someone makes a movie.

This is all considerably awkward, as these ‘activists’ are the most oppressive force we’ve seen since the Bush Administration. (Morally opposed? Right to the free exercise of religion? Forget it, don’t you see how necessary this is?)

But we must ask the question, and thus spear the elephant in the room, when on earth did free contraception become a right? At what stage in our nation’s development did we decide that institutions were obligated to offer us sterilization? I’ve scoured the Constitution, and while I did find a lot about religions being allowed to live out their beliefs freely, and without government coercion, I missed the contraception exception, the “Congress shall make no law…unless people need the Pill, dammit. Then screw all that freedom stuff, what on God’s green earth would we do if someone decided not to pay for some one else’s sex life!? Why, that would mean that the bedroom would become a…a…private place! And we can’t have that! We must involve everyone! The Church especially!” No.

So what is it? Why is the Church violating women’s rights? Given the definition of a right – a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way — and the fact that there exists no legal, constitutional obligation that the Church provide guys with free condoms and girls with free pills, we really must ask: Are individuals morally entitled to have Catholic institutions pay for their birth control?

I first of all suggest that we — as a culture — have lost the ability to use the term, “moral entitlement”. For what do we mean by it? The Church and the State aren’t allowed to mingle, so the phrase cannot mean what our Founding Fathers would have meant, that we have “certain inalienable rights endowed by the Creator.”

And even if we suddenly decided to let God get involved with politics, we’d be hard pressed to to make the argument that God wants the Church to provide free contraception. No, moral entitlement is currently based on personal fulfillment. I’m not hurting anyone by doing _____, and _____ makes me happy, therefore I am entitled [to have others pay for]  _____. Contraception is necessary to our personal happiness as human beings, and the Church should not interfere with our right to pursue happiness.

The problem with all this:

The widespread availability of contraception is not necessary to human happiness. In fact, all evidence points to contraception as detrimental to human happiness. Women have had contraception made increasingly available to them, to the point that 80% of sexually active women are on the Pill. We are saturated in contraception.

If contraception was indeed essential to a human beings pursuit of happiness, it’d be fair to assume that more and more women get access to more and more contraception, the happier and happier these women will be. As it turns out, women have been getting more and more access to contraception over the past 35 years, with all the benefits attached to it, and have been simultaneously becoming evermore miserable. From The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness a study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers:

“The lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years by many objective measures, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men” (American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 2009, 1:2, 190–225).

We know that couples who use a form of NFP over artificial contraception

  • have a dramatically low (0.2%) divorce rate;
  • experience happier marriages;
  • and are happier and more satisfied in their everyday lives.

So the idea that Catholic institutions, by not providing free artificial contraception for their clients are somehow violating their client’s moral entitlement to a life of happiness is ridiculous. So my question remains: Why are Catholic institutions obligated to violate their consciences and provide artificial contraception to their clients? What human right are they violating by refusing to? I am sincerely interested.

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