Why Liberals Lie to Themselves about the Contraceptive Mandate

I’ve noticed that liberal sources (not to mention Facebook friends) have consistently made the mistake of calling the Church’s refusal to pay for employees’ contraceptive drugs a “denial” or a “deprivation” or an “attack on women’s rights.”  This is, of course, absurd; by that standard, my employer is depriving me of my fundamental right to bear arms because it hasn’t purchased me a handgun.  I couldn’t figure out WHY they kept making this obvious error, though.

It clicked with me this morning while reading the New York Times incandescently ignorant piece on the subject: Liberals have to convince themselves that the Church is exercising coercion against women in order to internally justify using coercive power against the Church.  They then talk to each other across the left-wing echo chamber so they can forget, as quickly as possible, that they are affording the Catholic Church fewer First Amendment rights than they afforded Fred Phelps, burying the Constitution under a nice froth of anti-clerical know-nothingism.  That the Church is not, in fact, exercising any coercive power at all, but merely demanding its constitutional right to refuse to directly participate in immoral activity, is an obvious fact that liberals must not allow into their heads.  If they did, they would see instantly that this is an attack on religious liberty.  Since they refuse to, they instead make it into a conversation about how fantastic The Pill is and how many Catholic women contracept anyway.

Thus my friend’s reaction last night when I pointed out this error: he feigned boredom and quit the thread, which is the Facebook equivalent of plugging his ears and going “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”  This was the first time I’ve ever seen him abandon ship on a civil conversation, which startled me, but now it makes sense. Liberals are doublethinking on this.  They have no choice: one of the core provisions of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) — a provision related to the sacred liberal idol of “reproductive healthcare,” no less — is unconstitutional, and that is not an acceptable outcome to the liberal mind.

That’s my diagnosis.  Prognosis looks bad, but I’m open to a second opinion.

It should be said that conservatives doublethink, too, on different issues.  I’m not angry, just surprised, and I hope someone finds the insight useful.

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  • Adam

    I’m not well versed in this sort of thing, but it seems to me that one could claim religious reasons for any number of illegal practices and I don’t think the court would uphold them. Maybe the Catholic church is simply hiding behind its historical power? Again, I don’t have anything to cite here and may be completely wrong but isn’t there some sort of clause to religious freedom that accommodates certain parameters based on societal pact? That for instance keeps human sacrifice on lock down? Logically if you find it necessary a part of society to provide health care to all members of said society and find reproductive health to fall under said health care, wouldn’t it make sense for religions to be forced to enter into this societal pact? Especially if you’re trying to be accommodating?

    • http://jamesjheaney.com BCSWowbagger

      But here we have crossed a legally and morally important line: the Catholic religion is not demanding a right to do something (like child sacrifice, or, more precedentially, polygamy). It is not lobbying to take away anyone’s contraceptive prescriptions or lawful access to condoms. This religion is demanding a right not to directly participate in an activity it genuinely and not absurdly holds to be gravely immoral as an integrated part of its bona fide social justice mission.

      Contraception is emphatically not health care, because pregnancy is not a disease. Even if contraception were health care, the Constitution does not guarantee free health care to all. Even if it did, neither the moral law nor the Constitution guarantees free or even low-cost treatments when they are purely elective. Even if they did, there would be no reason or need to coerce conscientious objectors into the funding-and-distribution scheme at the expense of the First Amendment. The Free Exercise clause clearly trumps all social hygiene interests the executive branch may entertain.

      Perhaps there is a social compact out there, somewhere, that would imply that religion can legitimately be coerced into participating in grave evil. The Constitutional compact, however, guarantees precisely the opposite.

      The case law on this is pretty thin, because, as far as I can tell, nothing similar to it has ever happened before. But, having read the Court’s unanimous holding in the recent Hosanna-Tabor case, I don’t think this mandate has a whelk’s chance in a supernova of surviving judicial challenge. That’s the silver lining here: offensive as the ruling may be, the only practical consequence is making President Santorum ten times more likely. (I say this as a Ron Paul backer.)

      Thanks for the cogent response. I think you’re dead wrong, but you took it on more directly and seriously than half a dozen New York Times columnists.

      • Adam

        I will say that I am confused as to how the Obama administration is handling this, however the end goal, of cheap-to-free healthcare for all is something I stand behind entirely. What I feel you overlook consistently (and I have a feeling that this is the irreconcilable difference between us) is that we’re working toward a sustainable societal structure here, something a long ways off from what we have currently and something where the “grave evils” of contraception are really important. I understand that you disagree with birth control, however i’m asking you to understand that this is a product of your upbringing, one I know first hand is of great privilege. For people who don’t have the ability to provide great homes for children it’s a much more responsible decision to not procreate. Should they be denied sex? I realize that you might say yes, so I’m just going to say that sex is a very important part of many people’s relationships, and yes contraception plays a part in loving, monogamous married relationships. Obama I believe has studied and consulted many resources and believes that by pressuring people to make contraception and sex education more available, we can attain a better standard of living, and I have to say I agree with him on this. Through this frame I see providing these things as part of a social pact, whether you want to use them is up to you, but education and access are the keys to power. They’re not part of the constitution, but I hope someday they will be.

        • http://jamesjheaney.com BCSWowbagger

          I’ll say at the outset that I think lowering the cost of medical care for all consumers is a most praiseworthy goal, and an important policy objective for any governing coalition. We agree there. Obviously, we disagree on how cheaper medical care can be achieved, and I would add that there is no such thing as free medical care (somebody will always be paying), but we don’t need to go there, because “how to achieve better medical care outcomes” is not at issue.

          What’s at issue is whether we are willing to sacrifice our God-given (and Constitution-recognized) liberties in order to do so.

          I’ll stipulate, for the sake of discussion, that you’re right about everything you said or assumed in your reply:

          1. Contraceptive access is a positive good.

          2. My condemnation is a result of my “privileged upbringing” and my general “bitter-clinger” mentality.

          3. The lower classes benefit overall from reducing their fertility, whether temporarily or permanently. (Is it still politically correct to speak of tiered social and economic classes? Conservatives lately have avoided it, both to avert the accusations of snootiness and to build on that “no class warfare” soundbite they’ve got going.)

          4. The best and healthiest and most effective way to reduce one’s fertility, temporarily and perhaps permanently, is through hormonal contraceptive drugs.

          5. Continence, or even periodic continence, is neither desirable nor possible in loving, married, monogamous relationships, at least not over the long term.

          6. Increasing contraceptive access and decreasing contraceptive cost, even in this contraception-saturated Western society, will either lower total fertility or raise the standard of living or both.

          7. It is necessary and proper for the U.S. national government to intervene directly in the employer-employee insurance relationship.

          8. It is appropriate for the U.S. national government, and specifically the executive regulatory bureaucracy without explicit authorization from our elected representatives, to exert economic or legal pressure on private actors in order to obtain desirable outcomes for those affected — i.e., federal policy pressure is acceptable as long as “it’s for your own good.”

          9. Cheap medical care is not merely a good thing, but a positive human right.

          As you know, I would part ways with you on every one of these claims. In particular, on #7 and #8, I have to wonder how you’ll feel about this if, say, Rick Santorum became president. By these principles, it seems that he would be morally justified if he decided that it would be desirable for every insurance plan in the country to require a ten-day waiting period before covering abortions. Or, as Deroy Murdock suggested today, he could require that all contraceptives covered by insurance come with a mandatory thirty-minute abstinence talk, probably liberally mentioning that COC’s are a group-1 carcinogen. I’m surprised by how little consideration liberals are giving to the powers Obamacare grants the White House, given that Democrats are simply not going to hold the White House forever. (Fortunately, a President Santorum would simply repeal the PPACA, preventing himself from exercising these powers.)

          But I concede the points anyway. For the sake of argument, you’re right about everything. Let’s even throw in a freebie and make medical care and education a federal Constitutional rights.

          But all that still doesn’t justify this mandate, which is a coercive attack on the very heart of Constitutional conscience protections. If this goes through — and it won’t survive court challenge, so we don’t have to worry too much about that — then it’s not going to end with the Catholic Church having to peddle birth control pills to its employees. If this is necessary and proper, then so is universal conscription over the objections of conscientious objectors, and any of a host of other violences against the basic respect for individual liberty that have made this country the greatest on Earth.

          Let’s certainly work toward cheaper and more effective, efficient, and humane medical care. That’s a project we can be proud to be a part of, even if I may disagree with you on most of the particulars. But let’s make it happen without compromising the basic freedoms of our fellow humans.

          I sense that you sense this. I just wish the President did, too.

          • Adam

            I see what you’re saying there, but I think you’re going a little too far. I don’t think that church funded institutions being legally bound to pay for birth control as a component of health care is the same as a church going individual being forced to serve against their will, perhaps a more appropriate analogy would be a church going individual being forced to pay for war and the death penalty as a component of taxes. The idea behind this legislation is that everyone deserves basic healthcare, for those who are sexually active–and responsible–birth control is a component of basic healthcare. The church may disagree with this, they may also disagree with any number of public policies that our money goes toward, but that doesn’t mean they can choose not to pay. Of course we could switch the burden to the tax payers and bypass the whole issue, but I don’t think you’d like that either. The bottom line is we (the liberals) by and large believe that health falls under the “Life” in Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, and yes, someone always is going to have to pay for it. We don’t see this as a moral affront, but a civic responsibility. Just because you are the member of a church does not give you the ability to opt out of basic civic responsibilities, and that is, I think, where we differ: what we see as civil responsibilities.

            • Adam

              also: I do realize the church is tax exempt, however so are churches exempt from paying for their employee’s coverage, this is an extended concept of the church, hence the abstraction to the conscientious objector as a person within the church and not the church itself.

              • BCSWowbagger

                The meaning of this sentence is unclear to me.

                • Adam

                  I’m saying that I know the church is tax exempt and that it doesn’t change anything.

                  • http://jamesjheaney.com BCSWowbagger

                    Oh! True.

            • http://jamesjheaney.com BCSWowbagger

              Well, they’re not just being forced to pay for birth control “as a component of health care insurance.” Before Obamacare, if a mandate like this were passed, conscientious institutions had the option of self-insuring, or dropping coverage entirely. The ACA removes that option with its employer mandate. Morally objecting institutions have been given no choice but to pay up for drugs that directly violate their mission, or close their doors. I shudder at the predicament of the Sisters of Life, who, being avowed to the religious life, don’t even have the option of closing their doors.

              You mention the option of transferring the whole burden to the taxpayer. This would actually be very preferable to the mandate, because it would change the moral status of our participation from “immediate material cooperation” to “remote cooperation.” It’s the difference between being forced to pay taxes to buy bombs for the War Department and being shipped to the front lines and forced to hand out guns. To pay taxes is a civic responsibility, even when they are then used for grave evil, and we are not free to disregard that. But to be forced to pay taxes which may or may not then be used for bombing brown people with oil is a light-year away from being forced to head down to Alliance Defense and buy the bombs yourself. The former is a civic responsibility; the latter is a violation of the First Amendment and the natural right of all persons to refrain from participating in what they believe to be an immoral act.

              Now, make no mistake: I still think those other laws, like the federal subsidy of Planned Parenthood, are immoral laws, and I will continue to fight for their repeal, just as you will continue to fight for an end to the wars you consider unjust. In the mean time, we’ll both continue paying taxes, as is our civil duty.

              But we will not be forced buy the contraceptives ourselves, with our own money rather than public funds. Any attempt to define this interference in our private affairs as a “civic responsibility” is to be ignored as a violation of human rights. “Liberty” is in the Constitution, too, right next to “life.” And religious freedom is the very first item listed in the Bill of Rights, before even the freedom of speech and expression.

              Thanks again for some thought-provoking posts.

              • Adam

                again, I see where you’re going with this, but it is not as if the institutions will be paying for the contraceptives, they will be paying a company that will provide them or not provide them based on the insured person’s desires, ultimately their choice. If the insurance companies were catholic insurance companies I might see the issue, but that’s not the case. Liberty is certainly in the constitution, and something I hold very dear, but it isn’t to be at the expense of others. I don’t understand how this doesn’t morally absolve the church’s orgs. other than the fact that their employees can remain employed and have access to birth control. In essence this compromise provides the health care without birth control, with free birth control option.

                • http://jamesjheaney.com BCSWowbagger

                  “It is not as if the institutions will be paying for the contraceptives…”

                  This is, I think, absurd on its face. Really? Then who is paying for the contraceptives? You say that it’s the insurance company — but this is clearly not true. The insurance company uses the original institution’s funding to pay for all benefits, including contraception. If the fiction on which the “accommodation” is based were true, then the insurer would pay the contraceptive prescription costs of employees free of charge regardless of whether or not the employer paid into the insurance company. This is clearly not the case; the insurer is not providing anything “free of charge.” Under the accommodation, the insurer is required by law to charge the original institution full price for contraceptive drugs (which the institution must, under law, pay) while *claiming* that it is not charging for contraceptives. It then must use that money to buy contraceptives and pass them on to beneficiaries free of charge. This is an far more transparently inadequate attempt at gimmick-based accounting than the “federal Planned Parenthood money doesn’t fund abortions” meme from last year.

                  The Obama Administration is not not “accommodating” religious liberty. It’s committing money laundering.

                  Even if we were to accept that this dishonest sop to the First Amendment were an acceptable escape clause for Catholic consciences (and we emphatically do not), tremendous problems remain:

                  (1) What about Catholic insurance companies? You say they aren’t, but you simply assert that. Catholic insurance companies are rare and mostly small, but they’re out there. Are they to be outlawed? And this is liberty?

                  (2) What about the institutions which self-insure, as many do? They can’t use cheap accounting prestidigitation to pretend to pass on responsibility to their insurer, because they are their insurers.

                  These further issues in no way diminish the original problem with the “accommodation,” which is that it does absolutely nothing other than cook the books by removing the “contraception” line item from insurer accounting sheets.

                  People have a legal right to access birth control. They do not have a legal — or moral — right to have their employers pay for them. Indeed, their employers have a legal — and moral — right not to do so if their consciences object.

                  Put another way: if the Republicans win in 2012, take over all three branches, and pass a law requiring all employers to purchase firearms for their employees, including those that object to violence in all circumstances, would that be a perfectly moral and legal exercise of government power? If not, would it become a moral and legal exercise of government power if the mandate did not fall directly on employers, but instead on their health insurance companies? (The justification here would be that having a gun for self-defense improves individual health outcomes on the average.) Or what if the mandate were for employers to pay for all employees to have free access to a certain amount of high-quality meat every month, because meat is good for you? I can’t see how your narrow conception of liberty protects pacifists and vegans if it doesn’t protect Catholics.

  • Tristan

    Here is my take on the issue.

    As a libertarian (although not very Randian, relatively), I of course believe that nobody should be forced to provide benefits that they don’t want to. But this is not what I think Obama is really trying to accomplish. Of course, he wouldn’t mind if the Church sat down on the issue, but I believe he was COUNTING on this response. He wants to rile the Republican Party in favor of Santorum in order to divide more strongly between the Romney crowd and the Santorum crowd. The longer he gets his enemies to not decide between the two, the better chance he has at reelection.

    Also, the move to let insurance companies provide contraception is his ace in the hole. Arguing against letting insurance companies provide the contraception is not a popular stance to take. He is solidifying his support from women and can claim that he tried to make a reasonable compromise when that was in his plan the entire time.

    • http://jamesjheaney.com BCSWowbagger

      I suspect this gives the President too much strategic credit. No one can so precisely predict the effects of a given political decision, especially not one that was in the works for so long. President Obama would have to be a diabolical mastermind to predict both the extent of the Catholic backlash and the “softer” impact it would have on the relative importance of social issues and Obamacare in this race.

      FACT: the only diabolical mastermind we’ve elected president in the last fifty years was Dick Cheney.

      Moreover, I’m not sure it’s obvious that a longer primary necessarily strengthens the President’s re-election odds. The longer primary is exposing (not creating, just exposing) weaknesses in our frontrunners and forcing them to deal with them. Santorum is learning how not to be a shrill schoolmarm. Romney is learning how to hide his cybernetic circuitry, and one day he may even program in enough soundbites that he is superficially convincing as a conservative. Gingrich is learning… well, nothing, apparently, but that’s why he isn’t going to be the nominee.

      Does he win votes from this? Not sure. It’s clearly a social wedge issue, and, despite roughly 50/50 polling on it right now, social wedge issues tend to (1) move in a conservative direction after public exposure (look at Obamacare’s polling) and (2) turn out conservatives to vote in larger and more passionate numbers than they do their opponents. President Bush, in the classic example, could arguably owe his re-election to marriage definition amendments on the ballots in several 2004 swing states.

      So my suspicion here is that the President has, in fact, made a colossal strategic error, which he is now trying to walk back just far enough to win back the support of his usual gang of faithful-but-liberal Catholics (especially Sr. Carol Keehan) to give him enough political cover to repair the damage. Watch for tremendous pressure to be brought to bear on Fr. Jenkins of Notre Dame to capitulate. As Notre Dame goes, so goes American Catholicism, and this is more true with this presidency than most. And the President cannot win re-election if Catholic voters reject him by even modest margins. (54% of them voted for him last time out.)

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