Friday, February 17, 2012

Lions 1, Christians 0

Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport,
spokesperson for the Bishops'
Conference regarding the
contraception mandate in the Healh
Care Law
There they sat: Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport William Lori, President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Dr. Matthew Harrison, Union University Professor of Moral Philosophy Dr. C Ben Mitchell, Yeshiva University Director of Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Ethics Professor Dr. Craig Mitchell—five men testifying before Congress on the pressing question of the implications on Religious Freedom for the Health Care Mandate for Contraceptive Coverage.  What is the problem?  Well the problem is this: appearances.  The battle is won not by facts but by emotions and whoever thought to put an all-male panel of witnesses up on a question that is not only about protecting religious freedom but also about women’s health must be a secret agent for the other side. 
     The debate about requiring religious institutions to provide contraceptive coverage in their mandated health care programs for their female employees is not unlike the debate about the legalization of abortion that had involved many of the same parties and which has divided our society for decades.  It is not a one-issue question.  I wish some of my fellow pro-Life Catholics would listen—LISTEN—to some of my friends who are pro-choice.  We on the pro-Life side of the argument are concerned about unborn babies.  And yes, we will use that language—babies—because that is what they are and we will not mask the critical implications of this debate with euphemisms that take away the personhood from these victims of intra-uterine slaughter.  Having said that, we need to sit down and listen to the pro-choice camp speak of their concern for women and for the complexities with which unplanned and unwanted pregnancies often confront women.  And we need to let them choose the language for their argument. Fair is Fair and we need to admit that pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing present women with limitations to their educational opportunities, to their careers, to the economic security of their families, to the stability of their relationships.  At times pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing even present serious threat to their health, if not even to their lives.  I have found that when I sit down and talk about abortion with my pro-choice friends that we are not even talking about the same agenda.  And if I want to protect the lives of unborn children then I have to be involved in protecting women from being put in the difficult positions that make abortion the only practical solution to their dilemmas. 
    This debate about the Health Care Mandate for Contraception is very much the same.  I am concerned about religious groups not being forced to provide services which they regard as morally unacceptable.  But that is only one side of the question.  I must also be concerned that women have access to services which my religion may say is morally wrong but which is legal.  Being legal doesn’t make something right.  I am not saying that.  But neither do my religious beliefs  make it wrong.  We have reached a social consensus on the legitimacy of birth control—as indeed we have on abortion.  I have the right to work to change that social consensus; indeed if I believe something is wrong I have an obligation to work to help my fellow members of society see why it is wrong, just as its advocates have a right to work to try to convince me.  But neither do any of us have a right to force society to live under the minority opinion and neither should any of us be forced to act against our consciences because the majority believes differently than do we. 
     This debate gets messy because there are those who in their religious zeal would wish to prohibit women from having access to contraception under any and all circumstances.  And here, we should say "prevent people from having access" as there are male contraceptives as well as female.  To proscribe contraception entirely is clearly an extremist position but there are some in the Church—bishops, clergy, and laity—who would have contraception be illegal and generally unavailable.  Such a position does not help any rational discussion. 
      Then there ere are those who realize that contraceptives are a part of modern medical protocols but who believe that they should be in the realm of private choice and paid for by the consumer out of her or his own pocket.  They may believe this because of religious reasons or, more likely, because they do not favor publicly funded health care of any sort for anyone.  They need to be honest and admit that their oppositoin to "ObamaCare" is not moral, it is purely political.
      Neither of these is a good position for us Catholics to be in.
      Then there are those who recognize that universal health care is—in general—in accord with the fundamental values of our Christian faith/  Among these are many who may or may not  be opposed to contraceptives but who recognize that contraceptives are a part of modern medical protocols and and as such should ordinarily be covered by health care as are other protocols; but who also believe that those religiously owned institutions (though not individual employers) whose religious traditions consider contraception to be immoral, should not be required to offer that coverage.  At the same time they should not begrudge their employees to have access to contraceptives provided through and by other means for which the religious institutions do not have to pay or be involved. 
     That might sound like I agree with “The Obama Compromise”
      Well, I don’t.  For one thing, it isn’t a compromise.  Eleanor Holmes Norton, the “Delegate” to Congress form the District of Columbia claimed that the Administration had worked out a compromise between the religious institutions and the insurance companies.  That is not quite the truth.  The Administration did not sit down with representatives of the religious organizations involved and with the insurance companies and hammer out a solution to which all could, admittedly with some reservations (that is how compromises usually work), agree.  But it is too late now.  The president slipped the trap into which incompetent advisors had led him.  The Church will not have to provide—directly—contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients to employees of its schools, universities, administrative offices, hospitals, and other institutions.  I have doubts that the insurance companies will provide these out of their own generosity; it seems more a shell game, but what can we say?  I am not back in the Obama camp but I am sure that most of my friends who had concerns are. The President is to be congratulated on creating an appearance of reasonableness.  Bishop Lori, on the other hand, by sitting with an all-male panel has been left with egg on his face—and the Church’s—for not understanding that perception has more to do with winning than reality and thus the Church has lost.  More on this to come.  In the meantime, would their purpled mitered majesties please get some professional advice  on how to handle public relations?   

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