Why the HHS Mandate is About Religious Freedom AND Contraceptives


By now, most Catholics are aware of the impending HHS mandate the Obama Administration will be imposing upon faith-based organizations, requiring them to pay — through insurance companies — for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. If they choose to not pay, a fine will be imposed per employee, which could cost institutions like the Catholic Church millions of dollars.

This is a hotly-debated issue. For those opposed, it’s believed to be a trampling on the freedom of religion. For those in support of the mandate, the issue is painted as a matter of health care

Almost every commentary from the Church is coming from the perspective that the HHS mandate of an infringement of religious liberty, and rightly so. For the first time in American history, every single bishop in charge of a diocese has spoken out publically against this ruling. Cardinal Dolan, head of the USCCB, asked on February 22: “If the government can…tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end?… This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all.”

If religious institutions are forced by the government to pay for products and services they believe to be intrinsically evil, what other requirements can be foisted upon them? Because of this, those who desire to freely follow their conscience and religion must stand up with Cardinal Dolan and decry this mandate as an invasion of religious principles.

I would like to propose this issue is not merely about freedom of religion, but also it’s about contraceptives. Let’s be very clear: This entire issue is not at all about health care. Health care should be about helping maintain or restore ones health so they have the opportunity to live as the best possible version of themselves. To promote true health care, one must have a solid understanding of what it means to be human.

According to the Catholic Faith, each human being has intrinsic dignity and value, precisely because we’re made in the image of God. We’ve been given freedom, not to do whatever we want, but to fulfill the reason we were created. Following the example of Christ, we come to learn the purpose of our life is to make a sincere gift, not in merely a spiritual way, but in and through our bodies. By living according to this design, we’ll live a healthy life which will bring us joy.

On the other hand, according to our culture, the human person is essentially no better than an animal, designed to satisfy one’s instincts. Freedom is the right to pursue one’s idea of happiness, and this usually centers around having the right to have as much sexual activity as possible. For our culture, this unfettered pursuit of pleasure is thus the meaning of life.

These two worldviews are radically and diametrically opposed. I propose the reason why many have such trouble seeing and accepting the Church’s view has everything to do with the acceptance of contraceptives. With a contraceptive mindset, the two intrinsically-linked biological realities of bonding and babies of intercourse become ripped apart. We can have bonding without babies (such as one-night stands, child-killing through abortion and same-sex actions) and babies without bonding (such as in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy). Marriage is no longer viewed as a necessity for sexual relations and is often thought to be a hindrance to attaining sexual pleasure. As Pamela Haag so bluntly asserted, a woman has to have the ability “to have sex that’s recreational and non-procreative.” This is exactly why those in favor of the mandate will seemingly fight to the death to defend their right to free contraceptives.

Yet contrary to contraceptive-friendly organizations like Planned Parenthood, using contraceptives has negative consequences. No contraceptive is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy, and because those who use contraceptives typically have an anti-conception mentality, where there are increases in contraceptive use there will always be increases in abortion. The contraceptive pill is not health care for women, for it’s one of the main causes of breast, cervical and liver cancer. And although we may be able to use a condom to possibly prevent new life, there’s no condom for the heart. For while our bodies may say to each other “I give you all of me,” insert a condom or a pill, and we’re essentially saying, “I don’t accept you for who you are. This rejection is a major libido inhibitor and has led to the breakup of many marriages and families.

We’ve been sold a pill of goods that because human being really can’t control themselves and say no to sex, contraceptives need to be provided. The next logical step is if the government is to defend one’s right to pursue happiness, they should make it so it’s provided for free (even if someone is paying for it). Yet the government’s main role is not to make sure it’s citizens are happy, but to provide for their welfare. Because contraception does the opposite with such negative consequences, should anyone be forced to pay for them, irregardless of their religion?

I suggest the reason why the HHS Mandate is such a big deal for both sides of the issue is because we as Catholics have failed in our job to consistently promote a consistent ethic of life, beginning with the act that has the potential to bring new life into existence within our churches and in the public square. For too long have our pastors been silent on this issue (have you EVER heard an entire homily, let alone a blip, about contraceptives from the pulpit?). While the Magisterium has taught the unchangeable Truth that the two essential elements of the marital act must never be separated, as well as beautifully articulating it through Blessed John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body, generations of Catholics still have not heard this teaching explained clearly. 

Yet we must not place the blame entirely on the clergy. As Catholics, we’re duty bound to inform our conscience and follow it. Far too many of us, however, have not taken the time to learn why the Church teaches against contraceptives nor how good NFP is for our marriages. It’s not hard to find authentic Catholic resources (Google anyone?). Far too many Catholics have simply drifted downstream with our culture, accepting media sound bites and believing the same ideas as everybody else.

This is to the detriment of Catholics and non-Catholics as well, for if we had been appropriately catechized and living this teaching within our own bedrooms, the push for the mandate would never have gotten off the ground. Perhaps Catholics like Kathleen Sabelius and Joe Biden would have been able to speak truth to President Obama.

Yet God can always write straight with crooked lines. This is a beautiful moment of mercy to finally set the record straight about contraceptives.  Bishops and priests have a perfect opportunity to catechize about the why of contraceptives from the pulpit. Lay Catholics will then have the ability to take what is taught and share it with their neighbors.

This Lent, let us heed the words of  2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” If we do, perhaps we may see not just this mandate overturned, but a culture of life spring forth in all its Easter glory in America.

The fate of religious freedom and the meaning of life and love hang in the balance. Will we be faithful to what God is calling us to, or will we continue giving to Caesar what is God’s?


About Author