No Valentine for Obama Print
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 14 February 2012

That Was the Week That Was: Not only the bishops, but the body of the Church seemed to rise up in opposition. There was a clarity that could not be missed in the mandates of the Obama Administration, that all medical insurance contain coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion. 

Faced with a political storm, Mr. Obama announced an “accommodation” last Friday that altered nothing of substance. The concern was that religious organizations of all kind – hospitals, adoption agencies, as well as churches – would be covered by the same sweeping regulations that were of course binding on everyone under the law.

In the “solution” offered by Mr. Obama, any insurance arranged by a religious entity would still cover contraception and abortion. The government would simply compel the insurance company to cover these “services” under the fiction that there would be no “cost.” 

If people are credulous enough to think that there will be no costs, that the costs will not be passed on to the insured, or that this arrangement alters anything of moral substance in the case – anyone credulous enough to believe these things probably wished to be fooled in the first place.  

And so the Catholic Left chimed in with support. Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, released a statement at once noting that her organization was “very pleased with the White House announcement,” bringing a “resolution” that would serve “the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries.”  

This “resolution” can protect only a “conscience” safely removed from any objective moral standards outside the person himself and the bundle of likes and dislikes he is willing to regard as the voice of conscience.

But the question even more remarkable is why anyone – especially the bishops – should  have been taken by surprise. A Democratic administration understands abortion not merely as a regrettable private choice, but as a public “good,” something to be praised and promoted at every turn, and sustained with public funds.  

And not merely locally. It needs to be mandated in all agencies of the United Nations and all operations of the American government that can touch places abroad. As befits a moral good, it is universal in its goodness.  

              Sorry, sir, there are no “exemptions” from Catholic conscience 

As Aquinas taught us in the first law of practical reason, what is rightful and good should be done; the wrongful should be avoided. A moral judgment is binding: if we say that it is wrong to own humans as slaves, we mean that no one ought to do it, that everyone, anyone may be forbidden from owning slaves. 

Lincoln caught the logic of morals from the other side when he said that “If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away.” If we understand that it is wrong to create disabilities and benefits for people solely on the basis of their race, we understand that the law is justified in barring racial discrimination. 

And the Church does not doubt that the law is as binding on itself and its members. Did people not understand then that the Obama Administration has come to regard the right to abortion, and now the right to same-sex marriage, as moral goods on the same plane?  

And if the federal government took command of the whole field of medical insurance, was it not evident that the Administration regarded abortion as a legitimate and necessary part of the medical treatment of women, even though no sickness would be cured by abortion? 

At Mass on Sunday I heard it said that the Church had sought an “exemption” from these new regulations. But that cannot be. To seek an “exemption” is to concede the binding quality of the law for everyone not subject to the exemption. As I understand it, the Church is seeking a “rescinding” of the whole policy. 

It is not merely wrong to impose this policy on religious organizations; it is wrong to impose it on Catholic businessmen, but then on businessmen who are not Catholic and yet have a moral objection to it. In fact, it is arguably wrong on other grounds to make people pay for abortions when they don’t see a need for a policy of insurance encumbered with those costs.

The mandate of the government is certainly not needed for people to have access to contraception and abortion. These “services” are not barred by law, and if contraception and abortion make as much economic sense for the lives of people as their partisans contend, the buyers would find it as sensible to buy it themselves as to pay the bills for their iPhones.  

        This move of the Administration cannot be explained then by a need simply to make these services available. It can be explained only by the determination to insist on the deep “rightness” of abortion and contraception – and to brand as wrong anyone who would deny their rightness.

We delude ourselves then if we think that the current crisis can be resolved with anything but the thorough repeal of Obamacare. But no mere calculation can induce the party of the Left to acquiesce in that repeal. 

       What the bishops need to understand is that the Left would have to overthrow a moral conviction that now runs, for them, as deep as the moral convictions that have finally moved the bishops to overt, full resistance.
Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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