It’s Not the Contraceptives, Stupid

If it weren’t for logic, I’d be a lawyer now–or so I tell myself. When I took the LSAT in 2003, I aced everything but the Logic Problems section, where I tanked utterly. (Not hard to do. The problem with logic problems is that they’re the Jenga of testing. Get one detail wrong–put Mr Green behind the wheel of the red car, say, instead of on the yellow motorcycle–and the whole thing comes crashing down.) There went my full ride to law school, without which I didn’t stand a chance of becoming an older, female Atticus Finch. You can’t repay law school loans with sacks of corn and a couple of chickens, which is how Atticus got paid. My goal was to practice constitutional law with an emphasis on civil rights, which doesn’t pay much better.

Logic may have derailed my late-life career plans, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for constitutional law. And it’s from that perspective, rather than from allegiance to my newly regained Catholicism, that I find myself outraged by last week’s HHS ruling requiring all employers to provide–and all employees to pay for–contraceptive services and sterilization as part of mandated health coverage. As I have confessed in this space, I am still wrestling with the Church’s moral teaching on reproductive issues, none of which I would have occasion to apply personally in this season of my life, but that’s moot. As the editors of Our Sunday Visitor said very clearly in an editorial that will appear in the February 5 print version, contraception isn’t the issue at stake.” What’s on the line here is the First Amendment guarantee that the Federal government will not get between an individual and his or her conscience. More logical minds than mine (like the Washington Post‘s editorial board)–and even minds as liberal (like The National Catholic Reporter‘s Michael Sean Winters)–have made the case that this is exactly what the current administration is doing. President Obama himself, in a direct personal communication with Cardinal-Designate Timothy Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, admitted as much.

Anybody who claims that Catholics are attempting to shove their religious values down the country’s throat by advocating legislative efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade should look very carefully at this HHS ruling. We’re the throat here, and the executive branch is doing the shoving. And if you think this kind of thing will be limited to making Catholics violate their principles, I invite you to look at the history books (you can read them on Kindle) for what happens once governments get carte blanche to tell people how they must behave in matters of belief and morality. We Catholics have particularly long memories of that horror, having been both the windshield and the bug through ages of ages.

I have friends who will argue, have argued, that this ruling should be celebrated for extending free family planning alternatives to poor people. If that’s the goal, the Federal government has many ways to accomplish it that allow Catholics the choice to opt out of using or paying for those services. But by locating contraception and sterilization  within mandated health care coverage, HHS is doing more than strangling Catholic consciences: it’s changing the definition of pregnancy from a natural stage of human life to a disease that requires preventive services. And that’s just . . . illogical. Plus stupid and insulting. Not to mention anti-choice.

So I wish, today, that I had been a better whiz at logic problems, so I could throw more than just my prayers and my words into what I suspect will be one of the bigger civil rights battles of my lifetime. I may be reeling from revertigo on a lot things, but I’m clear on this, and proud to stand with my own shepherd, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, who drew a strong and faith-filled line in the sand today:

We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights.

Read the full letter.

The only “concession” the administration has offered is a year’s “grace” before Catholic organizations are required to implement the ruling. In addition to praying, I’m going to use that year to practice logic problems. Maybe it’s not too late to get into this one on the side of the angels.

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