All You Wanted to Know about the HHS Mandate but Were Afraid to Ask a Theologian
March 22, 2012, at 10:54 AM
By Matthew Archbold |
As you probably know, under the HHS Mandate, most Catholic institutions will be required to pay for abortifacients, contraceptives and sterilization in their employees’ health insurance plans. But in a fascinating interview, William H. Marshner, professor of theology at Christendom College recently spoke with ZENIT
about the moral implications that the mandate could impose upon American Catholics and how we got here.
ZENIT: To start off with, why is contraception morally prohibited by the Catholic Church, and why is it immoral for us to pay for others who wish to use it?
Marshner: We can't justly be forced to pay for it because that means that we're cooperating with it. So the question is, why is the act immoral? I mean, if it weren't immoral, we'd be okay to cooperate with it formally or otherwise. Why is it an immoral act? Because it is a willful violation of a key part of a woman's health, and a man's health. Fertility is part of health. Pregnancy's a healthy development. You cannot call contraceptive practice a medical service; it's not aimed at a medical problem.
There's a fundamental dishonesty about performing acts per se act for the procreation of children, and then covertly doing something to undermine those acts so that they can't have that effect. It's as though I said, let's go off and play golf. I bet I can beat you. And unbeknownst to you, I have gone around and filled up the little holes so your ball can't go in. This is a dishonest golf-game. It's also similar to saying, well, I'm going to play poker but I'm not going to lose any money. How am I going to ensure that? Ace up the sleeve. A contraceptive is like an ace up the sleeve. I'm going to play, but pregnancy's not going to happen. Why? I've got an ace up my sleeve. It's an internal chemical thing, or it's an IUD, or whatever it is. But contraception is a falsification of an act which ought to be a marital act.
ZENIT: Regarding the HHS mandate, a great deal has been said about religious freedom. Is the immorality of contraception being adequately addressed in these discussions?
Marshner: No, quite frankly, because I have yet to hear a clear public discussion of the issue of formal cooperation. Granted, a Catholic organization that insures itself, buys an insurance policy that provides coverage for contraceptive services is not itself engaging in a contraceptive act. The question is whether the institutions' cooperation with those who would use that coverage to perform such acts is formal cooperation.
Formal cooperation is distinguished from merely material cooperation, and the basic nub of the distinction is this: material cooperation does not involve your sharing, in any way, the intention of the person who does wrong, whereas formal cooperation arises when you do share in that intention.
I would say that if an insurer provides coverage to pay for a drug, device, or procedure intended to be used to render infertile the sexual acts that the user intends to perform, then the insurers' cooperation with that immoral act is formal. It you pay for a person to have x, you intend the person to use x. And if x is described as a contraceptive, you intend it to be used as such; if you pay for it as such, you intend it to be used as such. Moreover, the government has removed any ability for insurers to say that they don't have this intention, because the US Federal government is now mandating… insurers to provide coverage for everyone under the description contraceptive services. At the moment, only houses of worship are exempt – that would be parishes. But any Catholic hospital, school, or charity would come under this mandate.
Now, many Catholic hospitals, schools and charities are self-insured. In other words, they don't go out to an outside insurance provider; they provide the benefits internally – in other words, they don't go out to an outside insurance provider – they provide the benefits internally, from their own funds. Will the mandate apply to these self-insured religiously-identified institutions. Well, apparently it will. Senator Collins of Maine sent a letter to secretary of HHS [Kathleen] Sebelius, asking for clarification of this very point, and Sebelius refused to provide it…
So, the self-insured are going to be using their own money to pay for these services; they become the people who pay. And what you pay for somebody to have, you intend for them to use. I'm not going to buy you a hat if I don't intend for you to wear it. I'm not going to buy you a condom if I don't intend for you to wear it. If my coverage provides you aspirin bottles, I intend for you to take the aspirin. What's it supposed to do, sit around your closet for decoration? I intend for you to take the aspirin. Ditto for birth-control pills, inter-uterine devices, and sterilization procedures, and all the rest of it.
These insurers and the government often use the term reproductive health services. But by that they explicitly include contraceptive services, and say so. And so, if Church related institutions have to pay out of their own self-insurance programs for this kind of coverage, they are made to be formal cooperators in these immoral acts.
Now then, it is central to any sound understanding of religious liberty, that you are not to be made a formal cooperator in any actions of which you disapprove on religious / moral grounds. That has traditionally been the understanding in American law.
There was a piece of legislation that passed Congress: the employees of any unit of government – State, Federal, or Law – cannot be obliged to attend, or otherwise participate, in an execution if they are morally opposed to capital punishment. Suppose, a prison was a little short in its budget, and decided to make some money. We're going to charge an entrance fee for everyone who comes to watch this murderer electrocuted, and we're going to make that general policy. And suppose the government mandated that certain employees of the government had to attend to certify that [the execution was genuine], etc. Then, those employees would be compelled to pay to do what they consider immoral, namely attend, etc. And that's exactly what's being required of us now, contrary to existing law in the case of attending a capital punishment.
ZENIT: The Guttmacher Institute recently did a poll that showed 98% of Catholic women use contraception. In addition, some Catholic public figures are declaring publically that they use or support the use of contraception. What does it reveal about the State of the Catholic Church in America?
Marshner: Forty or 50 years of wretched pastoral care. There was substantial dissent within the Catholic population of this country, and also in the Catholic clergy of this country from Humanae Vitae, and that dissent was never adequately dealt with.
Continue reading this excellent interview at Zenit.
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