The Sebelius Contraception Edict: What you need to know

2 Feb

Kathleen Sebelius, director of Health and Human Resources

My friends and I used to have a joke whenever a celebrity died. We’d say, with some degree of incredulity, “So and So is dead? I didn’t even know he was sick!” I feel that way sometimes when a big news story breaks on a subject I wasn’t following and all the newsmen report like you already know what’s going on. It’s like listening in on two friends debating without knowing what started it.

Lots of bishops including our own Archbishop Naumann are starting a debate by  speaking out against the  Health and Human Services (“HHS”) contraception mandate and the threat it imposes upon our religious liberties as Americans to follow our conscience.  However, probably many Catholics in the pews are just now entering into the conversation and wondering what’s going on. So here’s the low down:

When Congress passed and President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, what is commonly called Obamacare, it mandated that all health insurance providers cover “preventative services.” Most Americans were thinking of things like yearly physicals. However, the law did not spell out exactly what kind of services are preventative and left that to be determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Last year, former Kansas Governor and self-identified Catholic, Kathleen Sebelius, as the HHS secretary announced her decision to declare contraception as a preventative service and furthermore that providers must cover 100% of the cost. These contraceptive services include sterilization and drugs that can induce abortion. This “contraception edict” was the fulfillment of a feminist objective to provide free contraception to everyone. Thus very soon the federal government will require all employers pay for their employees’ contraceptives. Secretary Sebelius has declared that this ruling will go into effect in 2013, conveniently after the presidential election.

Now here’s the problem: The Catholic Church, which is one of the largest religions in America teaches that using or helping people to use contraception is a serious sin that jeopardizes one’s relationship with God. The contraception edict did allow for a religious exemption, but it defined this exemption very narrowly so that it only applies to religious organizations that exclusively serve people who are of that religion. So if a religious organization serves people of all faiths—such as a college, charity, or hospital—it doesn’t qualify for the exemption and is mandated to pay 100% of its employees’ contraceptive services.  Even in the case where the religious exemption applies; the religious group is obliged to make a referral. As well, private citizens who own businesses will not fall under the religious exemption.  So if you are a Catholic businessman who in good conscience doesn’t want to pay for your employees’ sterilization you will have no legal option other than to not offer health insurance.

So for example, if this ruling stands, because I work for the chancery I won’t be able to go to the Archbishop and make him cut a check to pay for my wife to go on the pill (by the way she and I would never use the pill because as Catholics we believe it’s immoral and as parents we know its bad for her health). However, I could legally oblige him to tell me where to go get them, which would force him to cooperate in something that Catholics believe to be a sin.

Should I transfer and go work for Catholic Charities or Donnelley College, which are both run by the Archdiocese, I could then force the Archbishop and all the Catholics of Northeast Kansas to pay for something that the Church teaches is morally wrong.  I could oblige the Church in this way because even though Donnelley College and Catholic Charities are an integral part of the Church’s mission of charity they don’t just serve Catholics.

Now as a Catholic, I know there are many of my brothers and sisters in the pews who don’t agree with our Church’s teaching on contraception and see artificial birth control as a positive good for society. Sebelius, a professed Catholic herself, might argue that most Catholics practice contraception sometime during their lives, and sadly she would be right. However, the moral viability of contraception is not at issue here. What is at issue is does the State have the power to force people of faith to go against their conscience?

For instance, I personally see no problem with moderate drinking (as my friends from college can attest) and would not be surprised to learn that a majority of Muslims or Mormons go against their faith’s teaching and have a drink now and then.  However, as an American who believes in the First Amendment I would be outraged if some bureaucrat sought to compel through governmental coercion all Muslims and Mormons to violate their conscience and drink alcohol or even compel them to serve alcohol in their buildings. As Americans we wouldn’t stand for rabbis being forced to serve ham sandwiches at their synagogues and so we shouldn’t stand for bishops being forced to buy women’s birth control pills.

Religious freedom is often celebrated as the first freedom because it is the first right mentioned in the Bill of Rights.  So if you didn’t even know that now this celebrity of a right is sick, now is the time to keep the freedom of religion from dying.   As Americans we have to ensure that this celebrated right is not lost to us.  If the government can force the Catholic bishops to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients, is there really any limit to what they can force others to do?

Bill Scholl is the Social Justice Consultant for the Archdiocese, (also a proud practitioner of Natural Family Planning, and father of six with one on the way.)

13 Responses to “The Sebelius Contraception Edict: What you need to know”

  1. Thomas J Burbach February 3, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    Yes. we don’t live in a theocracy. Therefore, civil and secular concerns trump religious ones outside of exclusively religious institutions. Duh. Civil, secular and medical society overwhelmingly agrees that contraception is a reasonable and safe means of individual birth control. It makes practical sense that it be included in health care plans. Thank goodness medical science and practicality are at long last trumping unverifiable superstition.

    • Leon Suprenant February 3, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

      There are some gaps in logic here. No one is suggesting that the United States is a theocracy (and even if it were, it’s not a Catholic one!).

      But the United States does hold sacred the First Amendment, which allows for the free exercise of one’s religioh. The U.S. has also upheld conscience rights in various contexts.

      What we do see with the HHS mandate is the further “establishment” of a new secularist religion that is being imposed on those who are not adherents of its pro-contraception, pro-sterilization, pro-abortion tenets.

      Are killing our babies and mutilating our bodies so that we can’t have more children really “health care” according to “practical” common sense?

      But leaving that aside, the Church isn’t telling the government that private health care plans can’t include coverage for these things, but by the same token, the government shouldn’t be able to tell the Church to pay for services that the Church has always taught are gravely, morally wrong.

      I would suggest that those who would run roughshod over the moral teaching of the Church as “unverifiable superstition” and thereby extinguish the Church’s constitiutional liberties are the ones who are intolerantly imposing their religion–the religion of secular atheism.

  2. Mike F. February 3, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    I completely agree with Leon Suprenant.

    First, it’s not “medicine” to stop a body from functioning according to its normal, healthy design (the Pill and/or sterilization). In the words of “Thomas” above, “duh.” How distorted and confused things have become for so many.

    But second, and most importantly, this is a serious infringement on the First Amendment. The government is trying to coerce Catholics to violate their consciences. I’m proud of our bishops for standing strong against this injustice.

    Through this decision, the Obama administration has managed to do something few have managed to do: uniting Jews, Protestants and Catholics.

    http://www.becketfund.org/protestants-and-jews-declare-to-white-house-we-stand-with-catholics/

    So, maybe he really is a “uniter” after all.

  3. Troy Hinkel February 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    I appreciate the comment from Thomas Burbach,if only because it answers a question that I have had: what do Catholics who still support Obama think, and why do they think it? It confirms my suspicions–they think very little. Every statement Mr. Burbach presented as a fact is not, in fact, factual. He reveals, however, tendencies typical in secular liberalism; appeals to so-called modern consensus which is both reasonable, in their own estimation, and safe. This is precisely the point, his statements are not veiwed as reasonable and safe by a large number of people who are informed. If the birth control pill were any other type of pharmaceutical perscrption it would never be approved because it is not safe! Read the information insert, it is all there.
    Finally, if the Catholic Church taught that killing puppies were wrong, and the government forced the Church to accept a mandate forcing them to pay for practices that did so, would Mr. Burbach at least empathize with their desire to protected by the First Amendment, even if he did not find a problem with the practice?

  4. Thomas J Burbach February 7, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    Red herrings, Hinkel and Leon, just like the goofball ham sandwich analogy in the article above. Nobody’s mandating that anyone kill anything. We’re also not talking about what’s happening in a church, synogogue or mosque. We’re talking about standardizing a federally regulated product: health insurance, at organizations that employ folks of many different theistic faiths, and those of no supernatural faith.

    Also, no one is imposing a “secular religion” on anyone either. For one thing, absence of belief in the supernatural, be it Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Zeus, Loki, Obi Wan Kenobi, etc etc. is not a religion. You’re coming from a perspective that doesn’t allow you to comprehend a life without religion, so you reflexively assume that any view consistently different than your own must be a belief system of some sort. Not the case at all, and that’s why it’s almost impossible to find rationality about religion among the religious. It’s disappointing, but I don’t expect it.

    Choosing to evaluate medical matters on the basis of empiricism rather than on the entirely unobservable and unverifiable edicts of an alleged deity is, to most folks, just common sense. It’s why you can be prosecuted for letting your kid die of pneumonia because you’d rather pray him better than take him to the hospital. The vast majority of the medical community agrees that contraception is medicine, and is safe. I trust them over the clerics of any religion.

    • Bill Scholl February 7, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

      Thomas, it sounds like your real issue is with the first freedom of the First Amendment, That Congress shall pass no laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. You speak of faith so dismissively as if our belief in Christ is the equivalent of contrived comic book fantasy. What religious person hurt you, to make you suggest such a thing? America works because we have boundaries that limit where government can grow and religion is one of those boundaries.

      For Catholics religion is not just practiced in Church or in prayer but in living lives of charity. We are called by God to love and serve everyone, especially the poor. This is why we invented the University, the Hospital and multitudes of services for people in need. Please keep in mind that it was Catholics and the Catholic Church who invented the hospital in response to the Gospel, all of this hundreds of year before the Fed even existed. Granted it serves the common good for the state to be involved in regulating the services we provide. However for the government to compel the Church to go against its conscience on this matter crosses a boundary that doesn’t do anything to help anyone.

      Furthermore, the Church’s conviction on the badness of contraception is not just based upon personal revelation or belief. Leon and Troy have done an admirable job of explaining this. You don’t need to believe in any religion to see that contraception is evil, and there a good deal of empirical evidence to prove this.

      America is also great because we can disagree and still live and work together. As Americans we don’t vest all authority and power into the hands of the State and in fact deliberately curtail its power. So if the Catholic Church who first settled this country and helped build this nation; who brought hospitals to cities and towns who wouldn’t have had them any other way; who even in caring for the poor helped to get this Health Care law passed (it was dead in the House till the Bishops intervened), cannot have its autonomy respected…who can stand?

      Will we then just have a nation where the elites who control the narrative of media and curriculum can decide who gets to have a conscience and who is just being silly? Where will your empiricism be then when facts that are inconvenient to power can be dismissed as easily as those silly bishops?

      It is against our religion to impose our beliefs on others. Why should the state be able to impose forcing us to pay for its values.

  5. Mike F. February 7, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    * There’s more than contraception at issue in regard to this mandate:

    http://www.usccb.org/news/2012/12-021.cfm

    * If contraception is medicine, then what is the disease it treats or prevents? Pregnancy. It’s little wonder that 50 million unborn children have been killed in this country with that mind-set.

    * The “medical community” has no particular competence in the area of morality, ethics or simple logic, for that matter. When used in reference to pharmaceuticals, the definition of “medicine” is: “A drug or other preparation used for the treatment or prevention of DISEASE.” Pregnancy is not a disease and facts aren’t subject to a majority vote.

    The fact that so many have come to view contraception as true “medicine” illustrates the extent to which our basic sense of truth has become distorted and perverted. It was this mentality that has led to the legal killing of over 50 million unborn children since 1973.

    As another Catholic, religious zealot once put it:

    “The abandonment of the reproductive function is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it.”

    Except that he was no Catholic. And he was no religious zealot.

    The author of that quote?

    Sigmund Freud

    (Quote of Sigmund Freud in “Sexual Dissidence” by Jonathan Dollimore, p. 175 and also by Jerome Neu in “A Tear is an Intellectual Thing”, p. 155)

  6. Troy Hinkel February 7, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    Mr. Burbach,
    here is the issue: The Catholic Church believes (along with natural law theorists, psychologists like Freud, other religious leaders like Gandhi) that contraception and abortion are bad practices for a culture. You and your so-called experts do not. Fine. What the State is mandating is that Catholic employers who agree that these are bad practices will now have to pay, out of their proceeds, for employees who want pills that accomplish prevention of conception or termination of a human life conceived in utero. You clearly do not agree; no one is forcing you too. Can you agree that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights guaranteeing religious freedom should be applied to Catholics? If you do not, you are niether reasonable, nor tollerant, nor American, if to be American is to accept and abide by the U.S. Constitution.

  7. Leon Suprenant February 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Much has already been said now on the subject. I do recommend this blog post from Fr. Andrew Strobl, a dynamic, young priest from our Archdiocese: http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2012/02/religious-liberty-mapping-developing.html?m=0

    A religion is really any belief system regarding ultimate reality. Atheism is a belief system that rejects God. Secularism is the belief that there are no divine or supernatural influences in human affairs (either no God or God doesn’t care). Materialism is the belief in only physical or material realities, and the denial of the spiritual. Relativism is the belief that there is no objective moral truth. Then there is the religion (having different names, such as Pelagianism, Universalism, etc., or no name) that generally holds that God and the spiritual dimension exist, but our beliefs and actions ultimately don’t matter, as when we die we all go to the same happy place.

    All those “isms” are religions. They require an “act of faith.” While they mostly reject God, they fill the void that remains (sometimes with hedonism, utilitarianism, and other idol producers). While such “religions,” from a Christian perspective, place one in grave spiritual peril (calling forth a charitable outreach), Christians do respect the “religious” and personal liberty of others.

    The problem here is that our secularist administration is acting in a manner that is intolerant of the religious freedom of the Catholic Church, and is heavy-handedly imposing its value system on Catholic employers, notwithstanding the First Amendment. Such an attack on the Church is outrageous and unprecedented.

    • Bill Scholl February 8, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

      Wonderful point Leon. It reminded me that in our nation’s history when Atheists and Secularists have felt imposed upon by dominant religions they have run for the protection of the First Amendment arguing that freedom of belief allows for freedom not to believe. However, when Atheist and secularists want to impose their views on others they claim they are not a religions because they don’t believe in anything. So for instances you can’t teach that God exists in a public school but you can teach that he does not exist. If irreligious views are protected by the First Amendment they should also be limited by it.

  8. Mike F. February 9, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    Not to digress too much, but the more I read about “the Pill”, the more I can’t understand why women would voluntarily ingest it. There are studies proving that the risk of an aggressive form of breast cancer increases markedly when taking “the Pill”. The American Cancer Society acknowledges that “the Pill” increases the general risk of breast cancer and the World Health Organization has even listed the hormones in “the Pill” as a category one carcinogen. And according to scientific studies cited in Scientific American, it also adversely affects a woman’s ability to select the right mate for her and may be have profound evolutionary effects.

    This is medicine? Really? It sounds more like poison to me.

    http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/18/4/1157.short

    http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/BreastCancer/OverviewGuide/breast-cancer-overview-what-causes

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=birth-control-pills-affect-womens-taste

    http://www.viewzone.com/estrogen.html

  9. Nicole February 10, 2012 at 4:27 am #

    I think the real issue here that no one is bringing up…or maybe everyone is glossing over is: subsidiarity. It may be with in the society of the employers of these “catholic” institutions to provide health insurance coverage since these can get a better deal on health insurance coverage in general than a private individual can, but it hardly seems within the society of an employer to provide that which is the private business of any individual woman or man. Until the power over the woman’s head determines that she is unfit to run her own life, it is up to the society of the individual woman whether to injure herself bodily with elective hormonal “treatments” which are well known carcinogens and deadly clot-forming agents and it is up to the society of the individual woman whether to murder her unborn children. That does not mean the choice to do so is good or praiseworthy, merely that until she is declared unfit to govern herself, it should be left as a matter of the individual woman’s internal forum. A woman’s employer should not be buying her contraceptives, abortifacients or elective tubal ligations, any more than an employer should be buying a man’s elective vasectomy.

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