Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tracy-Clark Florry on Religious Right's Attack on Contraception: Deconstructing the Religious Freedom Argument

Tracy Clark-Florry addresses the religious right's (including the U.S. Catholic bishops') response to the Institute of Medicine's recommendation that insurers be required to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods.  I blogged about this yesterday.

As Clark-Florry notes, the response of the religious right, including the USCCB, is wildly out of step with the cultural mainstream in the U.S.--including the Catholic mainstream, where there is near-unanimous acceptance of artificial contraception as a morally legitimate option.  As she also notes, the religious right--including the USCCB--is predictably trying to frame their opposition to the IOM's proposal as all about abortion.  

But as the excerpt from USCCB spokeswoman Sr. Mary Ann Walsh that I cited in my posting about this yesterday notes, it's not just about abortion (which is a red herring issue here).  It's about opposition to contraception.  And to the right of others, both Catholics who accept contraception and those outside the Catholic church, to obtain contraceptives from their health insurers.

And so it's ludicrous to argue, as Sr. Mary Ann Walsh does on behalf of the USCCB, that the Catholic bishops are defending religious freedom in trying to block the right of others who disagree with them to obtain contraceptives.  As Clark-Florry notes, most insurers already provide contraceptives, so the rather hysterical argument that Catholics' conscience will be violated if this coverage becomes universal is unconvincing.  


Opponents argue that their conscience would be violated just by paying for a plan that paid for other people's contraceptives. But, as Adam Sonfield of the Guttmacher Institute argued Thursday in a live Q&A on the Washington Post's website, "insurance would basically become unworkable if everyone got a veto over what services any other member of the insurance pool could use." (Not that even that would stop them.) "Buying insurance doesn't give someone the right to veto other peoples' health care decisions," he explained. "You may disagree with a host of health care-related decisions that other people make, such as smoking or diet or riding a motorcycle, but our right to disagree is not a right to interfere."

The Vatican and U.S. bishops need to develop some better argument than the religious freedom argument, when they want to convince us that they are protecting and preserving human rights by trying to block those rights in the public square.  In a pluralistic secular democracy, no religious group should have veto power over the human rights of others, simply because that religious group says things ought to work only as that group envisages and in no other way.  

We'd soon land in serious chaos if we permitted that kind of theocratic interference in the public square by religious groups, as Clark-Florry notes.  In fact, we're already in chaos, to the extent that we have allowed religious groups to dictate to the public at large in many areas of American life.

People have a fundamental human right to basic health care, and whether the Catholic bishops like it or not, access to contraception is part of basic health care.  The bishops are hardly distinguishing themselves by attacking folks' human rights while claiming to be motivated by a concern for religious freedom and their own rights to dictate to the consciences of others.

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