Will Health and Human Services Really Force Catholics to Cooperate With Evil?

The Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration will soon require all employers to include “contraception and sterilization coverage in their health-insurance plans, including those provided to employees of religious institutions.” The USCCB is complaining that this violates religious liberty and requires Catholics to purchase a health care plan that violates their moral principles.

The Department of HHS also has given companies that don’t presently comply with this edict until August of 2013 to figure out how they plan to comply. Some will simply give their employees a lump sum payment of cash and tell them to purchase their own insurance on the open market. Sounds like a plan? Perhaps, until one realizes that those plans will be more expensive than what a company would have access to, putting especially those with families in a dicey economic quandary.

Providing health care is something that the Church and the Obama administration agree should be a fundamental right for all people. Is it a greater evil to say, not provide a diocesan employee or a Catholic Health worker with benefits or to have a benefit plan in place that includes coverage for contraception and sterilization? Would the latter be formal cooperation with evil simply by purchasing a plan like this? If it is then giving money to someone to purchase that same plan would also be formal cooperation as well, wouldn’t it? Just as say paying Independent Health (my insurance company) money for plans that don’t cover contraception even though they have other plans that do also qualify as a no-no.

Grant Gallicho over at dotCommonweal provides us with better insight on this issue:

Paying for health-insurance that includes contraception coverage does not amount to formal material cooperation with evil because an employee may or may not take advantage of the benefit — and the act of using artificial contraception is something an employee could engage in with or without health insurance. Rather, when a Catholic institution pays for health insurance that includes birth control, it is remotely cooperating with evil. Remote material cooperation is permissible when there are proportionate reasons. Providing health care for someone who could not get comparable coverage as an individual on the open market (and at this point an individual could not) is sufficient reason to freely and remotely cooperate with evil. (emphases mine)

In short, my view is simple: If you don’t want to use contraception or have a sterilization procedure than don’t do that. Perhaps therein lies the issue. Why couldn’t the Bishops simply call on Catholics to not use such things and trust that they won’t? If statistics are to be believed, many Catholics use birth control (and I’m not saying that they should, I’m just stating a fact). Presumably, some are employees of a Catholic entity (a school, a hospital, a diocese). So they are already finding a way to use contraceptives with or without access to it in their health care plan. The issue at hand here is really trust. Do the Bishops trust that Catholics won’t use these options in their health care plan? The answer is apparently no.

Is this as big of a deal as we think it is? I think that’s doubtful. Is President Obama purposely trying to annoy Catholics in this regard? No, I don’t think so either, but there was an easier solution to be sure. Some Catholics are claiming that he’ll now lose the Catholic vote. I find that even more highly doubtful. Why? The last time I checked very few Cathoiics checked what the Bishops have to say about who they should vote for. After the sexual abuse scandal the Bishops moral leadership was put into a grave situation with regard to whether people consider them a trusted source with regards to morality. These days they don’t rate very high unfortunately. So the risk of losing the Catholic vote is minimal because statistics show that for most people, they generally don’t consider what the Bishops say when making the decision to vote or to not to vote for someone anyway.

Still, President Obama and the HHS department could’ve expanded the exemption for religious entities that are not churches. To not do so seems to disregard the moral conclusions that concerned people of faith have concluded after deep discernment. Their conclusions are not ones that should so carelessly be dispensed with and this law will give them more to chew on unnecessarily. That said, people of faith should also smartly realize that we need not fret as much as we might first think.

As Catholics, we should not worry as much about what a health care package gives us the freedom to do. Rather, we should worry about what our freedom allows us to be called to do. We have the power, despite the law to tend to those who seek abortion or sterilization and to honor them with such a profound care that their worries about bringing a child into the world cease. Do we do that? Some do. Most of us are concerned. But more needs to be done.

Do we take time to really articulate a sexual ethic that says more than “No-no, don’t do that! That’s dirty” to young people? Do we honor women with our sexual ethic regarding the body by campaigning against pornography, sexism, domestic violence and genital mutilation? Do we dispense with outmoded examples of female submissiveness in favor of mutual partnerships in marriage that call EACH person to freely give all that they are to one another promising that they will stay with that partner, come what may? Do we honor that covenant marriage, or do we think of it more as a corporate merger that can be reworked or dispensed with at will frivolously? Do we spend enough time with our teens to notice to whom their attractions lie and work to teach them proper ways to interact with one another instead of regarding the other as a mere sexual desire to be quenched? All of these are ways to combat the choice that evil gives them.

It seems to me that more “preventative” measures can be taken to make sure that Catholics are discerning well when it comes to these matters of moral levity. In doing that, perhaps we’d have less of a reason to be concerned about what health care companies offer at all. Simply put, we’d have no need to even venture the question.

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2 Comments

  1. Your article brings up some interesting points but leaves aside the most important. I completely agree that we need to focus on positives as a Church, such as loving and caring for those who must deal with an unplanned pregnancy, educating our young people about God’s best for sexuality and honoring women.
    If we Catholics as individuals were the ultimate judges of right and wrong we could spend time weighing the upside and downside of complying with or circumventing the new law. We are not, however. We are God’s people and he clearly has told us not to kill. If the Church compromises on this because “in the long run, more people will have more access to health care” (versus purchasing their insurance privately), it will be placing itself above God’s law.
    The real issue is not whether or not people will vote for Obama. It’s not what we believe to be the best solution to get the most health care to the most employees. It’s whether or not the state can tell the Church that it must violate its morals. Yes, individuals have freedom; they can choose where they’d like to work or where they’d like to go to school.
    This isn’t about the freedom of individuals (yet).
    It’s about a very frightening move away from the separation of church and state. Because the Catholic church has established large, effective, sought-after institutions, the government wants to “protect” the many who choose to work for them. They seem think that telling the Catholic Church that it must defy its beliefs is a small price to pay for the “good” it will do for the employees. Who decides that? Why is it ok for people in Washington to decide that the fundamental right to practice religion is superseded by the right for women to have protective healthcare (that a bipartisan government committee has determined they need)? Do we want to live in a country where government can force private religious institutions to do what they believe to be for the greater good?
    Besides the very important social issues you bring up, I believe Catholics in the U.S. also need to focus on the issue of protecting our right to practice our religion in this country because the Department of Health and Human Resources just put it up for grabs.

  2. Good thoughts, Molly. The issue I have is whether we’re talking about individual or corporate freedom here.

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