By Fr. Dylan Schrader, for Homiletic & Pastoral Review:
Some Catholics (and others) have couched their objection to the recent HHS mandate in terms of religious liberty. Their focus has been on the unreasonably narrow definition of what constitutes a religious organization, and on the lack of a proper exemption for religious employers who do not wish to provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortions. Such a focus is good and correct—the HHS mandate does blatantly infringe on the free exercise of religion. To focus only on this aspect of the mandate, however, is to miss an even more foundational point, namely, that contraception, sterilization, and abortion are really evil.
We are speaking, then, of two distinct but related problems with the HHS mandate. First, it seeks to increase the frequency of contraceptive acts, sterilizations, and abortions. Second, it seeks to coerce most employers to cooperate materially in providing for, and facilitating, such acts even if these employers have a conscientious or religious objection. While we have objected, and must continue to object strongly, to the second point (the infringement on freedom of conscience and religion), we must also vocally oppose the first point. Indeed, the second presupposes the first. The more fundamental problem with the HHS mandate, therefore, is the immorality of the acts themselves in which religious organizations are being “required” to cooperate.
When it comes to any policy that directly seeks to facilitate contraceptive acts and abortions, we cannot limit ourselves to an approach that would imply that such a policy is acceptable as long as it isn’t forced on Catholics (or other religious employers). Contraception, sterilization, and abortion are always wrong for everybody, regardless of their religious beliefs. We should be seeking to eradicate these evils altogether, not merely seeking an exemption from cooperating in them ourselves.
If we approach the HHS mandate only with a concern for the protection of conscience rights, and do not accompany this approach with a clear reiteration and explanation of the immorality of contraception, sterilization, and abortion, then the rest of the world could easily understand us to be embracing not only a de facto, but even a de iure, pluralism with regard to these moral issues. People might take us to be saying, in effect: “We’re not trying to limit access to contraception and abortion; we just don’t want Catholic institutions to be forced to provide it.” This would be misleading, for the Catholic position is not that Catholics should not contracept or abort; it is that no one should contracept or abort.