Paternalism, Employer Healthcare, and the HHS Mandate


President Barack Obama.

Now, I did not want to get into politics in this blog. This blog is about healing division, not fomenting it. But my friend has got me upset about the issue of this HHS contraception mandate — she liberal and not understanding the Catholic position, I standing the ground of my Church. I wanted to say a few words to clear the air.

Liberals like to paint this issue in terms of Catholic “misogyny” and “sexism” and “discrimination” against women. They like to make this an issue about sexual ethics, about the Catholic Church trying to dictate how women live their sexual and reproductive lives, painting the Church as a “bunch of misogynistic, white-haired old men” “obsessed with gynecology,” treading into areas that they do not understand and that are none of their business. But this is neither the position of the Church, nor an accurate representation of who stands behind it.

First, the bishops, the voice and leadership of the Church, happen to be men, but they do not stand alone. There are many women who fully support the Church’s stance on this issue. Second, the Catholic Church stands opposed to artificial contraception — but this has little to do with sexual ethics. Here in the South, many conservative people are opposed to sex education in schools, to free distribution of birth control to teens, and the like, because they perceive that it promotes and condones premarital sexuality. I think many people assume that the Catholic Church’s position on contraception is something like this — that the Church is opposed because it perceives that it promotes free and unprincipled sexuality. That may be a marginal reason why the Church is opposed, but not the core one at all. The core issue is the sanctity of life, and of the sanctity of sexuality within marriage. Artificial birth control removes the procreative aspect from sexuality. It eliminates the life-creating element from sexuality and from marriage. It distorts what God created sexuality and created marriage to be.

This is a teaching of the Catholic Church, for Catholics. And the Church does not offer or attempt to impose this teaching on secular society. The Church offers its teachings to those who will listen, and respects that many people won’t. But secular society is now attempting to impose its view, its teaching, on the Church. This is not about “white-haired old men” telling women how to live their lives — because the Church offers its teachings freely, not forcefully or restrictively, and recognizes that women have free will to make their own decisions and live their own lives. This is about men and women in the government telling the Church and its members that it is legally bound to violate its own beliefs and teachings.

The Church can’t, and doesn’t try to, and won’t, force women to stop using birth control. It won’t force its members to stop using birth control. Catholics and Catholic organizations won’t force their employees to stop using birth control. All the Church offers is its teachings against artificial contraception, and leaves the decision to the free will of women.

But now the government is demanding that Catholic organizations and Catholic employers pay for artificial contraception. Paying for it, funding it, is in fact, and inescapably, supporting it and condoning it. The government and liberals have made birth control into an “essential medical service,” something it has never been before. Even if it is medically necessary, Catholics are not trying to stop anybody from using it. They simply are unwilling to violate their consciences by funding it and supporting it. And they should not be forced to.

The very idea of employer health coverage — and of government healthcare regulation — is inherently paternalistic. It implies that an employer’s employees are his or her dependents, whose medical welfare he is obligated to support. It implies that a government’s citizens are its dependents, whose medical welfare it is obligated to mandate and ensure. The Catholic Church is also ostensibly paternalistic — concerned with the spiritual welfare of its members. But the Church’s paternalism does not impose its views on artificial birth control on either its members or employees. It respectfully allows those people to obtain and use birth control, and accepts that they will; it does not bar them from doing so or threaten those who do with excommunication or termination of employment or any other sanctions. What the Church’s paternalism does do is defend the rights of its members to stand for what they believe, without the government forcing them to violate their religious consciences.

Allow me to draw the paternalistic metaphor a little further. If an employer is the “parent” of its employees, obligated to care for them financially and medically, then what right is it of the government to define the parameters of that care? Certainly, a parent is obligated to provide medical care for his or her children; to fail to do so is child endangerment or neglect. But does the government demand that all parents provide birth control for their teenage children? Thankfully our civil liberties have not yet been infringed upon that far! Employees are not teenagers, but nonetheless the idea of employer healthcare reduces them to dependents, and raises employers to the role of parents and providers. And parents have their own consciences regarding what activities and procedures they will fund and provide, upon which the government has no right to infringe. And “children” have the inviolate freedom to go and seek services elsewhere.

This metaphor breaks down when one realizes that employees generally have the freedom to choose their own employers; children cannot choose their own parents. If employees expect free birth control as a benefit, they should not choose to work for a Catholic employer. For many years this has been common wisdom. Catholic employers have never provided birth control, and until now, employees have never expected them to. And the government has never demanded that they do so.

This is a new mandate, a new overreach, a new infringement upon religious liberty and conscience, a new guarantee by the government that has never been guaranteed before — and something that all people need to seriously examine before they charge the Catholic Church with “misogyny” and “sexism.” These charges are nothing but smoke that clouds and obscures the real issue. The Church and its members would just as soon object to funding sterilizations or vasectomies for men. This issue has nothing at all to do with the Church hating women, discriminating against them, or dictating the sexual lives and ethics of its members. This has everything to do with the Church standing up for the rights of its members to their religious liberties and consciences.


So, it is thirty days until Easter. Once I enter the Church, will I still be nascens, or will I be novus?

Things have been moving quickly, and I’m sorry I haven’t felt like posting, and haven’t had time. I am always having thoughts I think of sharing, but then they pass before I have a chance to sit down and write them, or my motivation flags. I’ve started and deleted this post three or four times in the past week.

Last week at RCIA, we had a lesson on sacramental marriage and Natural Family Planning with a couple in the parish, and it was amazing and invigorating and worldview-changing. I find that the more Catholic I become, the more and more my worldview changes — the more and more I feel at odds with the rest of the world.

Jesus said that the world would hate us on account of His Name; that we would be reviled and persecuted. Never before in my life as a Christian have I truly felt that pain of rejection. But in this heated political and cultural debate, I feel all of a sudden that I’ve placed myself on the front lines of the culture wars — or sometimes, before a firing squad. Many of my closest friends are very liberal. Always in the past I’ve been able to find common ground with them, and we were able to respect each other’s divergent turf. Never before have I been decried for maintaining my own, private, traditional, conservative views; but now, if I’m not openly in favor of abortion or homosexual marriage (or “women’s rights” and “gender rights”) — then I’m labeled a misogynist and a homophobe.

The Catholic Church stands, self-consciously, against the values of the modern world. Critics charge that the Church is antiquated or “out of step with the times” — but this is how it has to be; we follow Christ and not the times. We are called not to conform, but to be transformed. I’ve heard this rhetoric all my life as a Protestant, but never before have I found myself holding positions — on marriage, on contraception, on the death penalty, on service to the poor, just to name a few — that go against even most Protestants. More than any other brand of Christianity I’ve been a part of, I feel that I’ve stumbled upon radical Christianity.