One response to my previous post – in which I critiqued the widespread Catholic outrage over HHS’ so-called “contraception mandate” – deserves its own follow-up, because it gets to the heart of a lot of objections raised in the Catholic world about health insurance coverage of reproductive services in general, and specifically about this latest HHS mandate.
This self-identified Democratic-leaning independent reader’s critique was, put simply, that even if they don’t object to women having access to contraception, people (such as [a small percentage of] Catholics) who object to contraception should not be forced to pay for other people’s use of it.
That this is also how the U.S. bishops are looking at the issue is shown in their response to the Obama administration’s recently proffered compromise (in which employees could receive free contraception directly from the insurer, paid for by the insurance company rather than by the Catholic hospital, university, or charity):
In the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage [read: contraception coverage], that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns.
In other words, the bishops, like my reader, object to paying for something they find morally offensive.
On the surface, of course, this is a very compelling argument. None of us likes for our money to fund morally objectionable practices. It’s the whole principle behind Fair Trade and socially conscious investing. I don’t want my money to fund the exploitation of farmers and their families because I find that morally evil and degrading to human dignity; similarly, objectors to the HHS mandate argue, why should they be forced to pay for other people’s contraception if they think it is a moral evil that degrades human sexuality?
Now, of course, the question of who is really doing the paying when it comes to private insurance plans (like these Catholic institutions would have) is a separate one entirely – but suppose that for the sake of argument, we grant that just by paying my bill at a Catholic hospital or university I am thereby paying for the health insurance coverage of employees. Thus, my hands are dirtied if that insurance coverage includes contraception – and likewise, if the administrators of said institution are required to offer such health insurance, they are being forced to implicate themselves in moral evil.
Here’s the problem with this argument. If an employee goes out and buys contraception with her salary because it’s not included in her health insurance coverage, aren’t my hands as a customer of that Catholic institution – or the “objecting employer’s” hands who paid the salary – just as dirtied, since her salary comes from this Catholic institution just like her health insurance does? Aren’t we – by this logic – therefore subsidizing her violation of Catholic teaching, simply by virtue of paying her a salary?
The point is, when it comes to paying for something one morally objects to, there is no meaningful difference between paying employees salaries (which they may as freely spend on birth control or donations to Planned Parenthood as on rosaries and prayer books) and providing health insurance coverage that simply subsidizes reproductive services. The money still comes from the same place, and it’s not like employees of Catholic institutions have any illusions about what the official Catholic position on birth control is, so it’s unlikely they’d take this mandated health insurance coverage as tacit approval by the institutional Church.
In other words, unless Catholic employers are willing to declare that they will not hire or pay employees who do not follow every particular of official Catholic teaching, they are just as much funding immorality (as they see it) whenever employees choose to purchase contraception (or anything else the employer morally objects to) as they would be by simply offering health insurance that covers contraception.
In short, what’s at issue in this debate over the “contraception mandate” is not religious liberty; rather, the issue is to what extent employers can and should control how employees choose to use their resources. This outrage about being forced to pay for other people’s abortions or contraception is really based in an anxiety over the personal agency of individuals employed in Catholic institutions – that if contraception is included in their insurance, they will of course choose to use it, and thus they must be protected from making that choice. Such an anxiety is fundamentally based on a patronizing and paternalistic view of employees and, ultimately, women, who cannot be trusted to make conscientious decisions on their own.
Now that’s something worthy of outrage.