Thursday, May 17, 2012

Obama's Contraceptive Kulturkampf

One issue exercising Catholic opponents of the HHS mandate is whether to emphasize the attack by the Obama Administration on religious liberty or take the substantive argument about contraception (as well as sterilization and abortion) to the public square and argue from reason and the actual experience of the sexual revolution unleashed by the pill (see on this Mary Eberstadt, The Vindication of Humanae Vitae, and her recent book,  Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution).

The mandate is indeed a serious attack on religious liberty, an assault on the freedom of Americans to practice their faiths without intrusion by the federal government.  There is no compelling state interest in compelling Catholics to violate their conscience, plenty of other exemptions have been granted to other groups - including other religious groups like the Amish who are exempted from the entire law - and, as pointed out earlier, the measure has all the marks of a bitterly anti-Catholic cram-down reminiscent of the tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who compelled Jews in the 2nd century BC to eat pork on pain of torture and death.  The contraceptive and abortifacient drugs ingested aim to prevent or kill babies and have nothing to do with health, except to harm it.

But Catholics and other opponents of contraception reject artificial birth control and abortifacient drugs not simply as a religious peculiarity like the proscription on eating pork or the requirement to circumcise male infants.  It was indeed the norm for all major Christian groups from the time of the apostles to 1930 - but the reason for rejecting it is not a distinct command of God for Christians but arises because contraception is contrary to the flourishing of human beings regardless of faith, if any.  

It is harmful to women, to children, and to the family, as Eberstadt shows, and appears to have serious medical side-effects too.  It treats the normal healthy functioning of a woman's body in pregnancy as if it were a disease state and needed to be 'treated.'  It treats children as a burden to be prevented or eliminated for the sake of adults.  It separates sex from parental responsibility for children and changes the power dynamics between men and women, to the disadvantage of women.  It lies behind the explosive increase since the 1960s of paternal desertion, single parent families, cohabitation, divorce, and abortion, with negative results for women and children, especially but not only the poor and minorities, in every area of life.

As Eberstadt shows, this is a compelling argument that needs to be made, not ducked.  Seeking exemptions on religious grounds is necessary but by no means sufficient.

The White House’s Contraceptive Kulturkampf
Franciscan University of Steubenville just dropped health insurance for its undergraduates, thus becoming one of the most prominent early victims of the Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring all health plans to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs. Today the Catholic Church has found itself engaged in a new Kulturkampf, a cultural struggle initiated by State aggression against the libertas ecclesiae, the freedom of the Church to manage her own affairs so that her members might flourish in virtue and serve their fellow citizens freely. 

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