Last month, U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a mandate requiring employers to purchase “preventive services” such as contraception for their employees under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The mandate additionally stipulated that any non-profit employers previously exempted “based on religious beliefs” now had one year to comply.
“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between requiring religious freedom and increasing access to important prevention services,” stated Sebelius.
Mandated contraception strikes no such balance. In fact, it strikes, quite blatantly and aggressively, against two historical bulwarks in the American way of life. The first attack is on marriage and the family, individual cells that collectively form the body politic. The second assault is on freedom of religion, a basic principle enshrined in the First Amendment of U.S. Constitution.
Mandated contraception disguised as “preventive services” both poisons the natural roots of marriage and prevents the fruits of conjugal love – children and a family – from blossoming with unique, creative beauty into the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that marriage and the family are “ordered to the good of the spouses” and “to the procreation and education of children” (2201). On a practical level, what many spouses (especially young newlyweds) ignore is how embracing any artificial technologies for the explicit purpose of preventing pregnancy will destroy profound relational links between them over time.
Contraception covers over the tough decisions about how you see your spouse and the ultimate purpose of your marriage. Decisions that forge strong marriages require honesty, mutual trust, and shared communication. What may appear initially as a prudent choice – husband and wife proclaim together how “we’re not ready for children” for financial reasons, for example – can lead, with contraception, away from selfless, loving giving and toward selfish taking from the other in lust.
Marriage and family aren’t the only victims of mandated contraception. When marketed by the state as “increasing access to important prevention services,” it sacrifices freedom of conscience for all under the First Amendment in exchange for false “freedom” for some. In the search to broaden access as much as possible, the new HHS mandate forces employers to cover contraception for employees without co-payment. Aside from enacting an insurance system divorced from financial realities, “free” mandated contraception violates freedom of conscience by forcing all individuals to pay into the system regardless of whether that individual objects to contraception for moral or religious reasons.
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York explained the dangers in this way: “The cleverest way for the government to erode the broader principle of religious freedom is to target unpopular beliefs first.”
The American people have always declared life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness among their highest values. Mandated contraception, with its dangers left unexposed and unchallenged, foreshadows the foundations for a new order ripe with the stench of death, tyranny, and sadness.
The HHS mandate, with its twin aggressions against marriage and family as well as freedom, finds people of faith today with little to celebrate and a tomorrow with much to dread.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas. You can find him on Facebook here.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.