Coercion in the Name of Freedom?
By Richard M. Doerflinger
May 11, 2012
The "Freedom From Religion
Foundation" has placed a full-page ad in the Washington Post. It urges
Catholics to "quit the Catholic Church" over
its teachings on sex and procreation, asking: "Will it be reproductive
or back to the Dark Ages?"
Noting Catholic opposition to the
Obama Administration's mandate for covering contraception, sterilization
abortifacient drugs in most private health plans, the ad declares: "The
that hasn't persuaded you to shun contraception now wants to use the
secular law to deny birth control to non-Catholics."
This is so topsy-turvy a description
of what is going on that I guess the Post's advertising fact-checkers
sick. But in case anyone is swayed by
such charges, the facts may bear repeating.
It is, of course, the Administration
that wants to "use the force of secular law" to deny a freedom Americans
long enjoyed. Until now, Catholics and
non-Catholics alike had the freedom to decide, without federal
whether to buy the above-mentioned coverage or not. A religious
organization with a moral
objection could exclude the coverage from the health plan it subsidizes;
individual who wanted those drugs and procedures could choose to work
organization that subsidizes them, or use his or her own money to buy
Under the Administration's mandate, by
contrast, there is no free choice – for employers, or for individual
women. Almost everyone must have
coverage for the full range of anti-pregnancy technologies aimed at
surgical sterilizations to the injectable and implantable drugs often
used by overzealous
population control programs in the Third World.
(Interestingly, male methods such as condoms and vasectomies are
excluded.) An extremely narrow "religious employer"
exemption will let some churches and houses of worship opt out – if they
on "inculcation of religious values," and don't hire or serve people of
The Administration will delay enforcing
its mandate for one year for a wider class of religious employers –
educate, heal and serve the public. But
once this year is up, the coverage will be provided "automatically" to
organizations' employees, whether the employees want it or not – and to
"beneficiaries" such as teenage children, with guarantees of
This acts out a script that Planned
Parenthood and its allies wrote many years ago.
In 1995 PP's former research arm, the Guttmacher Institute, issued a
position paper titled "Uneven and Unequal" that urged comprehensive
"reproductive health" services as part of health care reform. It
insisted on covering these procedures for enrollees'
children "confidentially," so parents need not be aware what others are
encouraging their children to do about pregnancy prevention. The
Institute said such coverage should be
available without co-pays or other out-of-pocket expenses – not only to
maximize access, but to ensure "confidential care" (that is, teens can
the services without telling Mom why they need twenty dollars).
So this dispute is about religious
freedom, and other freedoms as well. As
part of its human rights stand on population policy, the Church has long
insisted that government should not be encouraging or dictating the
by which parents decide the size of their families. The Church has also
supported the freedom of parents
to be primary educators and guides for their children, including on
sexuality. Those freedoms are forfeit
when the federal government can reach into every family in America to
that children are counseled and given drugs, implants or surgeries to
behind their parents' backs. To justify
that agenda, you need a broader slogan than just "Freedom from
Religion." Maybe "Freedom from Freedom" will catch on.
Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To
learn more about the bishops' efforts on religious freedom and rights of
conscience, visit www.usccb.org/conscience.