I’m bringing this post to the top to let readers know that new material has been posted in the “Interesting Links” section. Look for the label.
We wanted to provide a place for readers to engage each other on the issues raised by the ongoing confrontation between the U.S. Catholic Church and the Obama administration over the recent HHS decision to not expand the religious employer exemptions for HHS mandated preventative health services. In a statement announcing the decision, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote that the ruling
strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services. The administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with faith-based organizations, which promote healthy communities and serve the common good.
Many Americans see it otherwise, including the Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) and the US Council on Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The CNS wrote a letter last September as the rule was being promulgated in protest to the federal government with 18 Catholic colleges and associations as signatories, including HACS, that
[e]ntities such as Catholic Colleges and Universities have a legal right not to be required to offer or pay for health insurance coverage that includes practices to which they have a religious or moral objection, and not to be forced to choose between offering such coverage, paying a fine, or offering no coverage at all .
The USCCB issued a news release after the latest re jiggering of the ruling declaring
that today’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions. In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.
The Church has acted quickly to respond to this mandate. Over 140 parishes issued letters to be read in churches describing federal intrusion into Catholic institutions. More than 400 Catholic leaders have called upon Congress and the Administration to protect conscience rights in health care. A full page ad appeared in The New York Times and the Washington Post with an open letter featuring 150 of these leaders on December 21.
This issue has provoked an avalanche of news coverage. Searching Google News for news articles on the decision yielded more than 9,000 newspaper articles in the 5 days after this controversy erupted. You are invited to share your own feelings, views, favorite articles ( a link to the article rather than clipping and pasting the article here is preferred), quotes, summaries: whatever you would like to add.
Below is a very short summary of significant events between the publication of encyclical Casti Connubii and publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.
Here is some background on this long-simmering issue.
1930 – Pope Pius XI issues Casti Connubii (On Chaste Wedlock), declaring the sex act within marriage is one of procreation. Interfering with its purpose violates divine will.
1934 – Margaret Sanger writes “The American Baby Code” for The American Weekly, explicating her views on contraception for eugenic purposes. (6)
1954 – First human trials of synthetic progestin for birth control. (1)
1955 – Positive results of progestin studies announced in Tokyo at a meeting of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (1)
1955 – Growth of American Families surveys of Catholic wives shows 58% had used some form of contraception.The rhythm method was classified as a “contraceptive” for this study. A more detailed study completed after publication of Humanae Vitae (1968) shows that of married, Catholic women under age 50, more than half were not using contraceptive methods proscribed by the Catholic Church. Younger respondents were more likely to be using oral contraceptives than older respondents. Only 1 in 5 Catholic women were taking the Pill. The rhythm method remained the first selection of Catholic women. (4)
1956-1957 – Field trials of contraceptive pill moved to Puerto Rico, Mexico and Haiti to avoid U.S. prosecution and public criticism. 20,000 women used in studies. (2)
1960 – First oral contraceptive pill becomes widely available. (2)
1962-1965 – Planned Parenthood launches a campaign to enlist sympathetic Catholics to endorse artificial contraception. (6)
1963 – Dissenters within the Church argue for reconsideration of Church positions on contraception. Pope John XXIII establishes Pontifical Commission on Birth Control. (3)
1964 – Germain Grisez publishes Contraception and the Natural Law, arguing that arguments against contraception based on a Suazerian notion of natural law were inadequate. Grisez rooted these arguments instead in St. Thomas’ understanding of natural law. (6)
1965 – Supreme Court case Griswold v Connecticut established constitutional guarantee of privacy, leading to the Supreme Court ruling that abortion is a private act in Roe v Wade in 1973. (6)
1965 – President Lyndon B. Johnson endorsed government sponsored programs of contraception.(6)
1964-1967 – A number of books by Catholic theologians promoting contraception are published suggesting artificial contraception and the rhythm method are “the same”. (6)
1965 – Richard Cardinal Cushing utters the famous line of one who “is personally opposed but . . . ” (6)
1966 – Commission on Birth Control issues long-awaited report. Majority report recommends contraceptives be classified as an extension of the rhythm method. Six members dissented. The reports are leaked to the press causing the sort of public consternation we see now with the HHS decision. (3)
1968 – Humane Vitae (HV) is published, condemning artificial contraception. Later researchers would find Pope Paul VI’s “prophecies” of what would happen if the Church’s teachings were ignored appear to be affirmed by data.(5) [Janet Smith's article is worth a read. A current magazine article covers similar ground in Business Insider.]
HV predicted that the widespread use of contraception would lead to:
- Infidelity and moral decline – HV noted that widespread use of contraception would “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.”
- Lost respect for women - HV argues that “the man” will lose respect for “the woman” and “no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium” and will come to “the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”
- Abuse of power – Paul VI predicted that the widespread acceptance of contraception would place a “dangerous weapon… in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies.” Think of forced sterilization and abortion in China as a single prominent example.
- Unlimited dominion – Contraception would lead men to think they have unlimited dominion over their own bodies. With ultimate freedom from the natural outcomes of sexual acts man believes he has conquered nature and erased all boundaries.
1968 – Time describes the extremely negative reception HV received outside the Catholic hierarchy, suggesting HV reflects the opinions of a tiny minority of the Church leadership who are interested in maintaining an outdated policy. The article quotes a gynecologist that HV’s claim that contraception would lead to the degradation of women “was a gratuitous slap at Protestant wives.” The article offers no further explanation of that mysterious comment. (7)
1968-2011 – Controversy subsides in the Church community but is stoked again by the Obama Administration’s decision to ignore Catholic entreaties to include a conscience clause in proposed ruling on insurance coverage of contraception treatment.
(1) Elizabeth Connell, “Contraception in the Prepill Era”, Contraception, 1999, 59, 7S-10S.
(2) B. Asbell, The Pill: A Biography of the Drug That Changed the World. 1995.
(3) William Shannon, “The Papal Commission on Birth Control” in The lively debate: response to Humanae vitae. 1970. Pp. 70-103.
(4) Leon Bouvier, “Catholics and Contraception”, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Aug. 1972. Pp. 514-522.
(5) Janet Smith, “Pope Paul VI as Prophet: Have Humane Vitae’s Bold Predictions Come True?”. Retrieved on February 14, 2011 from http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/264/popepaul.htm
(6) William May, “The Cultural and Ecclesial Situation 1964 to 1967: Paving the Way for Dissent From Church Teachings on Contraception”, Nova et Vetera, 2009, 7, pp. 711-729.
(7) Time, “The Pope and Birth Control: A Crisis in Catholic Authority”, August 9, 1968. pp. 54-58.
Obama administration picks a fight with Catholics, Washington Post.
The HHS Decision, America, The National Catholic Weekly.
Bad Decision, Commonweal.
Conscience and Uncontroversial Truth, a piece by Janet Smith in the January 2009 edition of The Priest. She anticipates many of the arguments we are hearing about the HHS rule of health care professionals coerced into violating their deepest beliefs .
Santorum Catches Up with Romney, a Pew Poll showing Santorum preferred by Catholic voters. Perhaps this HHS issue has highlighted Catholic issues in the minds of Catholic voters.
President Obama, the Right Not to Do Wrong, and the Politics of Ruse and Delay. A Witherspoon Institute piece that explores the alleged right to be coerced by the state.
The HHS Mandate and Legal Precedent. Another Witherspoon Institute piece looking at the latest claim from supporters of the HHS ruling suggesting the ruling is no different than President Bush’s federal policies on contraceptive services.
President Obama’s Policies The Same as President Bush’s Policies. This article from the liberal magazine Mother Jones lays the groundwork for the current argument that President Obama is just following the lead of President Bush.
Contraception Provision Sets Off Firestorm. National Public Radio has an 8 minute piece interviewing New York Times reporter Laurie Goodstein on the current public state of the controversy. The site provides a written transcript of the interview as well. A good representation of what an informed, secular view of the issue looks like.
Faith and Politics Collide in Contraception Debate. Talk of the Nation interviews Michael Gerson, columnist for the Washington Post, and Sister Simone Campbell, director of NETWORK, a lobby group of “progressive” Catholics. A A robust and intelligent discussion on balancing religious beliefs and societal values. You can read the written transcript or listen to the entire 30 minute broadcast.
HHS and Soft Totalitarianism. George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., writes at First Things that
the very fact that the administration issued these regulations [the HHS Rule], and that the White House press secretary blithely dismissed any First Amendment concerns when asked whether there were religious freedom issues involved here, tell us something very important, and very disturbing, about the cast of mind in the Executive Branch.
Public Divided Over Birth Control Insurance Mandate: Religious, Partisan and Gender Differences. The Pew Research Center conducted a poll between February 8 and 12, 2012, finding sharp divisions on the issue by religious affiliation, party and ideology. An interesting read.
The Little Sisters of the Limousine Liberalism. George Neumayr, contributing editor for The American Spectator and editor of the the Catholic World Report, contributes a caustic piece on Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association and supporter of the Obama Administration’s HHS ruling.
Contraception: Why Not-Revised and Updated. Dr. Janet Smith, professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, revises her CD on contraception to reflect recent public discussions on the issue. You can also read the transcript of Dr. Smith’s presentation – but without the Powerpoint slides. Dr. Smith introduces her topic by saying:
I’m going to be talking a lot about the difference between the modern and the Christian view of sexuality. I am going to explain why natural sex is best. In fact, natural sex is the sex that the Catholic Church promotes. Natural sex is sex between a man and a woman who love each other, who have made a lifetime commitment to each other and are open to having children with each other. That’s very rare in our culture. A lot of the sex in our culture is between people who barely know each other’s last name; who certainly don’t love each other. There’s no love relationship; they have made no commitment to each other and any child that might result from their union would be considered a disaster. I’m going to explain why I think the Church’s vision of sexuality – one shared by most traditional cultures — is much better than the modern practice of sexuality. And I’m going to claim that contraception has been the major element that has altered our view of sexuality.
Testimony at House of Representative’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearings on the HHS Ruling by Most Reverend William E. Lori on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He recites for the committee the Parable of the Kosher Deli and asks the committee:
Will our nation continue to be one committed to religious liberty and diversity? We urge, in the strongest possible terms, that the answer must be yes. We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to answer the same way.
You can read the testimony of all the hearing witnesses at the committee web page.
Mandates and Bad Law. Christopher Tollefson professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, talks about the variety of objections to the HHS Rule that have been posed by Catholic critics of the rule. 1) contraception and sterilization should not qualify under “preventive services”; 2) the rule creates a “burden of conscience” in that it requires the material cooperation of institutions to obey the rule; 3) the rule requires material cooperation, leading to the institution’s evaluation whether the reasons for cooperating are proportionate to the reasons for not doing so; 4) an institution’s Catholic witness in opposition to the values of the rule; 5) the matter of Catholic policy in making the drugs and services available.
In Defense of Religious Freedom. First Things has published a piece from a group of Catholic and Evangelical ministers on the issue of religious freedom. This group includes names we at Holy Apostles often run across in our courses: Russel Hittinger, Hadley Arkes, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Daniel Philpot, George Weigel and Matthew Levering.
White House Response to Lawsuit. The law firm handling the lawsuit against the HHS Rule for Belmont Abbey College announced that the White House response to the lawsuit to stop implementation of the HHS Rule . “Apparently, the administration has decided that the mandate, as written and finalized, is constitutionally indefensible,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Conscience Protection. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops created a page to specifically follow the issues raised by the HHS Mandate. A good source for keeping track of the issues important to Catholics
Support Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. The National Committee for a Human Life Amendment has constructed a page to promote a proposed piece of legislation: the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467).
Rousing homily on First Amendment Rights by Fr. Sammie Maletta of St. John the Evangelist Parish, forwarded to us by Rev. Mr. James Netusil.
A federal judge rules Washington state cannot force pharmacies to sell contraceptives. From the article: “The most compelling evidence that the rules [Washington state rules on dispensing drugs in pharmacies] target religious conduct is the fact the rules contain numerous secular exemptions,” the judge said. “In sum, the rules exempt pharmacies and pharmacists from stocking and delivering lawfully prescribed drugs for an almost unlimited variety of secular reasons, but fails to provide exemptions for reasons of conscience.” Thanks to Seminarian John Stearns for pointing out this piece to us.
The Bishops and the Mandate: Principled Witness vs. Politics as Usual. Public Discourse takes issue with a recent America magazine article in which the America editors argue that the USCCB is pressing “the religious liberty campaign too far” by opposing the accommodation offered by the White House to the HHS Mandate. Public Discourse sees the conference opposition as a “struggle for the principle of religious freedom, the soul of civil society.” A useful exchange and deftly expressed by both sides.
A Guiding Principle Revealed. The Witherspoon Institute explores what the HHS Mandate incident has taught us. It briefly united conservative and more liberal Catholics, motivated many critics across the political spectrum to speak out against the mandate: most agreeing that “citizens should not…be coerced into performing actions they believe to be wrong.” And a new principle of state conduct is revealed through this national discussion.
But the principle must conform to a moral test:
- The belief cannot be ad hoc. One cannot claim a commitment merely to avoid following the law.
- The belief cannot have as its manifest aim the material interest of the objector. The principle against the law cannot be merely for a superficial gain. However, a conscientious objector to war obtains a material interest by avoiding war so an alternative action can be created.
- Exemption cannot undermine the basis of government or civil order. Some mandates are necessary for the ordinary function of civil society regardless of personal feelings of the mandate’s unjustness.
The essay threads a fairly narrow path with these three criteria of a moral test. Does it solve the problem we see in the HHS Mandate?