The controversy over the federal birth control regulations imposed on religious institutions quickly engulfed the White House earlier this year, but one of the more remarkable attempts to explain it all didn't come from there. It came from three U.S. senators, and I'm still aghast at what they said.
The furor, of course, is over the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decree that religious employers pay for services deemed immoral to them. In this case, it is contraceptives and potential abortion-inducing drugs. But the conflagration roared out of control over a larger question: Can the government dictate to any person which religious doctrine he or she may honor and which doctrine is forbidden?
Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray, all Democrats, stated that companies failing to provide this "preventive" coverage in their health insurance plans actually incur higher costs because of what the senators explained as "lost productivity."
Now just think about that for a moment. How does a female employee lose "productivity" when she doesn't take birth control pills or potential abortion-inducing drugs? She puts herself in mortal danger of becoming — wait for it — a mother. The senators equated motherhood with "lost productivity."
Of course motherhood is not the only form of higher cost incurred by companies that don't provide contraception and possible abortifacient coverage. The other "problem" is that children are born — children who must also then be covered by an employee's health insurance. So in their very helpful explanation, the senators concluded that motherhood equals lost productivity and that children are defined only as "higher costs."
This thinking is rooted in the early feminism of the 1970s, when such quaint customs as bearing children and donning the mantle of motherhood was deemed to be the wrong course for women. That such a tired explanation is trotted out anew to explain the mandated coverage in health insurance plans is yet one more example of the philosophy which now guides the federal government.
But what is new and different is the vigorous opposition to this insurance mandate, led by the Catholic Church hierarchy (and quickly joined by numerous evangelical leaders, including Focus on the Family President Jim Daly). In recent years, quietly and consistently, the Vatican has been promoting and placing bishops who carefully adhere to church doctrine, and who are unafraid to write and speak powerfully in its defense.
Leading the bishops is Timothy Dolan, newly installed as the head of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, and also newly elevated by Rome to the rank of Cardinal. The White House consulted with Dolan prior to the release of the health insurance mandate, but Dolan's advice went unheeded. Not only did Dolan announce his opposition, he asked that all American bishops have parish priests read letters of protest at weekly Masses. Seldom have we seen such a muscular response to a government policy from the Catholic Church, and there are no signs that the protest will abate, unless the administration reverses itself (and at this writing that didn't seem likely).
Abortion advocates hope that this controversy will blow over since so many Americans have no objection to contraception; however, they miss a central point of our Bill of Rights. Religious freedom is guaranteed to all — not just to religious institutions or those holding popular opinions about religious matters. No, the right to religious freedom is guaranteed to each individual's conscience. That is the essence of the First Amendment, and it does not matter how many or how few adhere to the religious doctrine.
And one more thing. Whatever happened to "If you like your present health insurance plan you can keep it?"
Contact: Tom Minnery