Charles D. Dern, Ph.D.
February 23, 2012 - It has been heartening that even some who disagree with the Catholic Church on its teaching on artificial contraception have come to its defense to teach and operate free from government interference as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In the ongoing debate, however, there have been some glaring omissions.
First, let us be clear that debate is over contraceptives used as contraceptives. The Church is well aware that some hormonal pills have a therapeutic effect. Humanae vitae (Concerning Human Life), the primary Church document on the transmission of human life, explicitly states that use of such pills to heal maladies is completely moral even if there is a secondary contraceptive effect. (However, this cannot apply to pills with abortifacient effects.)
Second, President Obama's announced changes on February 10th to the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) contraception mandates do not solve the fundamental problem with the mandate itself. The change still has anyone opposed to contraception paying for contraceptives, etc., albeit indirectly. The funds to pay for the contraceptive and other questionable services have to come from somewhere. Insurance companies will not simply lose money but will charge a higher premium to cover the services in question. Thus as long as Catholic organizations offer insurance to their employees, the organization pays for contraception as part of the cost of employing. One might add that such a mandate potentially violates free commerce principles.
Third, there has been very little actual debate on why some think that contraception is so essential but rather a blithe acceptance that the need for it is obvious. Contraception clearly has not stemmed the need for abortions. Per Australian based Marie Stopes International, which operates a chain of abortion clinics, seventy percent of women with an unintended pregnancy and seeking abortions were using either the pill or a condom at the time.
Consider also that a Mayo Clinic study found that young women on hormonal birth control for four years prior to their first full term pregnancy increase their breast cancer risk by 52%. The World Health Organization's cancer research arm found that women who use hormonal birth control for more than five years are four times more likely to develop cervical cancer. Depo-Provera can cause bone loss. There are any number of such studies being ignored in this debate. Furthermore, hormonal contraceptives do not prevent venereal diseases while fomenting the activity that spreads the diseases. The CDC recently issued yet another warning about a yet another drug resistant form of Gonorrhea.
Fourth, there has been virtually no attempt to understand the Catholic Church's position. This is odd in that the protagonists on this issue are the ones who scream loudest about "diversity" and "tolerance." Contraception is an issue that strikes at the heart of what it means to be human and to truly love a person of the opposite sex. Simply put, the complete disassociation of sex from human procreation does not respect the entirety of the person. Even Hindu Mohandas Gandhi recognized this. It also should be painfully obvious that if persons followed the Catholic Church's advice to refrain from sex outside of marriage, the "need" for abortion and the spread of venereal diseases would virtually disappear, all at no cost to taxpayers.
This raises the final question as to why anyone should have to pay for anyone else's non-therapeutic contraceptives in the first place. Sexual activity is a private, non-mandatory behavior. Fertility is a natural property of the human body. A person capable of procreation is not sick, (indeed, infertility is the real pathology). Non-therapeutic use of contraceptives is not healthcare (nor is elective sterilizations or abortion).
Ironically, the Catholic Church is in the pro-choice position on this issue. It is arguing that it and others should have the freedom of choice to decide whether or not to provide coverage for non-therapeutic contraceptives. The word "egregious" is not strong enough to connote how far the present administration has overstepped the free exercise clause of the Constitution. Its continued pressing of this issue will accomplish nothing more than the waste of government and private funds fighting the mandate in the courts where most believe the administration will lose.
Charles D. Dern, Ph.D. is an instructor in moral theology and medical ethics at Saint Charles Seminaryís Graduate School of Theology and Immaculata University in suburban Philadelphia.