Thursday, February 16, 2012

On the HHS Mandate, as delegated by Congress in the PPACA

Regarding this article ( that I posted on facebook, this beginning of a conversation took place:

A Voice: I'm not sure I get the stance here. It seems like this accommodation is exactly that. This places the choice back on the employee and health insurance beneficiary, where it should be. Perhaps I am just ill versed in this social concern but I've never heard that making sure my health insurance doesn't provide coverage for contraceptives, etc is a duty as a Catholic.

[Basil,] are you aware whether your insurance plan covers these things? Did that enter your mind at all when you signed up for it? Isn't the moral locus, my choice about use, as opposed to the option itself?

This seems to to be tangentially about religious freedom, and more about arguing about legality of catholic prohibited sex stuff. I.e no one is forced to pay for it, so the complaint is that it's available. Granted in the case of abortion pills that is a fair argument, (right to life trumping religious/secular freedom). In the case of straight contraception, doesn't a call to make contraception illegal amount to something like religious oppression, such as Evangelical's calling for a prohibition of alcohol?

I guess my question is: if you aren't forced to pay for it, you are complaining that health insurances have to cover it, short of the abortion pills, who cares?

ps. how is this about religious freedom, and not another complaint at the general moral decay of a society?
A Second Voice: How is this not about the 1st Amendment (religious freedom)? The administration claims to "strike the appropriate balance" between women's health needs and "the unique relationship between certain religious employers and their employees in certain religious positions" -- this is an incredibly narrow interpretation of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." If one defines freedom of religion to mean freedom to believe certain things inside your head, then almost anything is permitted for the government to mandate.

The first ppl affected by this are the insurance companies, who are now forced to pay for things which many believe to be unethical: the administration has said ITS ethical dogmas are correct, and so the companies must submit. Secondly, the people who purchase coverage plans from the companies -- and now under the PPACA (so-called Obamacare) that's every American -- are forced to A) purchase the insurance (and thus pay for contraception and abortion or B) pay a fine to the government or C) close operations. I don't know; to me this is not too murky.

Although I agree this is not merely a 1st Amendment issue. To me it seems more akin to the government funding of abortion that has been historically prevented by the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City Policy (which Pres. Obama has circumvented in PPACA and repealed, respectively). This is a plain breach of the most basic responsibility of government - nay, of any society or community of human persons - to protect human life and defend human dignity, especially of the most vulnerable persons. In each of these cases, the ideology (the theology, or metaphysics, and the anthropology) of a group in power has produced an understanding of ethics which requires access to abortion and contraception as a fundamental right. Thus any opposition, whether religiously based or not, becomes unethical, and therefore justifiably suppressed, as a religiously based defense of slavery or stoning women would be. The Obama admin., and scientific progressives in general, see their task akin to that of the British Emp. in the 19th century, abolishing slavery and the mistreatment of women regardless of the religious and cultural opposition of the peoples they had conquered. So I do think that the freedom of religion argument is a little late in the game, and that ultimately the argument must be made on ethical grounds, universal justice, etc.

A Third Voice: I may not be as winded as you folks, but I do strongly side with the Church on this one. Im going to just touch on a few more specific statements that [First Voice] has made. First off, you are saying the benefits are going into the right hands...
it is clear in saying that you arent aware exactly what is occuring. Imagine for a moment that you are pro life. You honestly believe that at the moment of conception the egg and sperm are officially a human being. You firmly believe that it is murder. You own a company. A company you have raised from scratch that has grown so large that you require a health insurance plan that your company pays for and supports. This company is owned by YOU. YOUR private owned company is not owned by the government in any way shape or form. Now, the government is telling you that your PRIVATE, and SELFOWNED company is required to pay for acts that are against your beliefs. Even if you take the religious aspect out of why you have those beliefs and how the governement is telling you to defy them and pay for abortions... You are still being forced to follow regulations unnecessarily placed that also happen to go again your faith.


  1. "A company you have raised from scratch that has grown so large that you require a health insurance plan that your company pays for and supports."

    This reminds me of the arguments I've heard when I was but a wee lad. I remember some families forbidding the viewing of childhood Disney movies on the grounds that Disney supported and provided other immoral material or what not. Therefore, in supporting Disney by viewing or even purchasing ANY item they produced would be support of all their activity, moral and immoral...
    This is only one example of many other similar ones (supporting child labor by buying Nike, etc.) which I'm sure you've thought of.

    In listening to this current controversy, it sounds like many people opposed to the mandate of requiring contraceptives and the like appeal to the idea that it is immoral for them to provide any insurance (required or not!) if it includes these things. Hows does the employer bear any moral burden in this matter? Furthermore, they are not "supporting" abortion type products in the same way I do not support child labor when I wear my Nike sneakers. However, I suppose in the world of politics maybe I do....i dunno.

    My point here is if the Church were to offer insurance that included these options, I do not find the employer held morally responsible in the least.

    that being said, this is obviously only part of the issue. The other part is that this mandate indicates the current moral decay of society and clearly enters the realm of religious freedom. This is where religious employers have a duty to defend their moral integrity in any way they can! However, if their uproar against this mandate fails to prevent it, they have no moral obligation NOT to offer insurance to their employees, and in doing so is NOT supporting the mandate, especially since there is no other option!

  2. WARNING: My response is scattered and formless, but I think I got some of my questions/thoughts out

    Initially my comment wasn’t about whether this mandate is morally reprehensible (though I touched on it a bit); it was about my confusion at it constantly being framed as an issue of religious freedom. Basil you pulled out the bits of that do get it that, though I don’t think it’s as clear cut as you say.
    So putting aside my overall opinion of this mandates morality, lets look at some of the religious freedom quagmires.

    I admit I am still a bit iffy on who the affected religious institutions are (seriously I am not sure what we are talking about), Catholic hospitals? Insurance Companies?

    My first thought is that a mandate in and of itself doesn’t seem wrong to me. I am perfectly ok with requiring everyone to have health insurance if it means we can afford to cover, the millions of uninsured poor. Hell I don’t really need health insurance, but if I (the health young one) don’t: pay and rarely claim, there isn’t a lot of money for those who do claim often (cuz they’re sick). Don’t want insurance? fine pay a fee that helps offset the increased cost of you not being in the system.

    I am ok with that logically, insofar as the premises are true (as they claim, whether they actually are? Eh I don’t know).

    A mandate that requires health insurance that covers stuff you don’t agree with? Dunno about that one. Feel free to dislike it, but I’m not sure it crosses the line into religious persecution. I tend towards Yoda’s analogy about Disney or Nike shoes. It doesn’t really make the issue go away, but it puts it into perspective. You “support” and “pay” for stuff all the time that doesn’t line up with a Catholic morality, unless of course you don’t, then touche.

    Also theoretically the state is required to draw the lines somewhere, since it is ultimately impossible to not step on SOMEONE’s freedom. For instance, regardless of your stance of ritual virgin sacrifice to the volcano god X’al-tu you are not going to get a State sanctioned OK to toss people into the furnace. It’s not gonna happen, the State decided its position on ritualistic murder is right and yours isn’t. Obvious the example is beyond actuality, but it illustrates that the struggle for balance Obama mentioned is not imaginary, though you may not agree with his idea of balance.

    (I would like to hear your thoughts on this balance, in theory as well as more on this topic.)

    From a Catholic perspective this issue is complicated by everyone else’s grouping of condoms and Plan B under the same “contraceptive” label, whereas us Catholics call that contraceptives, and abortions. Different things; each deserved a completely different measure of response. Frankly I don’t understand how abortion pills are considered contraceptives they, by definition, do not prevent pregnancy, they end it. If they are being lumping in with free condoms, fine I get the strong response, you are vaguely asking Catholics to fund abortions.

    Which leads me to a different side question…Why not brand the argument that way? Instead of being the crazy people who think you are going to hell for using a condom, we can be the far more socially accepted group of people who don’t want to pay for other people’s abortions. At least then ALL of the Christians would be on our side...

  3. Quick point: The government doesn't force you to buy Disney and Nike products.

    Also, regarding X'al-tu's rites, once again, there's a difference between the government forbidding an action, and forcing you to perform an action.

  4. I don't buy your distinction between a prohibition and mandate. I don't see how those are different, from the sense of a religious freedom. Whether or not you are required or forbidden it's the same underlying problem, the government keeping you from practicing your religion in the way you wish.

  5. I'm feeling far too lazy to draft a systematic answer, so here is instead two nascent thoughts. And by "here is" I mean "here are."

    1) the Freedom of Religion cry is a particular response by American citizens, like the first indignant sputter of members of an eccentric club ("You didn't wear a red dinner-jacket on fish night! That is expressly against Rule 14!"). While this analogy doesn't do justice to the natural law thinking of the founders, it does point out the first objection which is merely a legal restraint. Not "Secretary Sebelius is attacking the moral foundations of our society!," but "Would someone kindly inform Sec. Sebelius that she doesn't have the authority to make that kind of a mandate? We hate to be snippy, but this is rather in the rule book." Or, as Sir Thomas More responded to the outcries against him for not obeying the Act of Supremacy: "Parliament hath not the competence."

    2) Ananke brings up a good point about the distinction between prohibition and mandate (which Isaiah Berlin wrote about in his idea of the two freedoms, the negative and the positive). But I think this goes back yet again to the murky relation between secular thought claiming no dogmas and ethical values.
    The "secular" government is only fooling itself if it thinks that requiring access to abortion&contraception is religiously neutral. It is of course imposing a strict, dogmatic system in which certain things are valued (most) highly and others must be subordinated.

  6. This article seems relevant here.