The issue is still religious liberty and not access to contraceptives, but some like Rep. Elijah Cummings and his pro-abortion fellow travelers at the National Women’s Law Center raised a distraction that deserves response.
Call it a teachable moment, or perhaps a “nip-it-in-the-bud” moment because I can see this question coming up later.
Cummings produced a list that purported to show Catholic institutions that already cover contraceptives. The obvious implication being that if these institutions already do then it must not be that big a deal.
First, the question is not what any individual institution or person chooses to do of their own accord, but what can the government constitutionally force individuals and institutions to do? This is not mere semantics. It’s liberty versus coercion.
The Cardinal Newman Society wrote about it on their blog. While the author over there touches on the reasons why this is a non-issue morally I asked Dr. Patrick Lee, the director of the Institute of Bioethics here a Franciscan University, if he could chime in with a more complete response.
Here’s what he wrote…
A contraceptive is not a chemical or a thing, but a type of act. Most chemicals can be used for different purposes. For example, arsenic is often used as a poison to kill people. But at one time it also was used as a component in a treatment for syphilis. Obviously, physicians prescribing arsenic for treatment of syphilis were not engaging in homicide—they did not prescribe a “killing pill.” In the same way, to use the chemicals often used for contraception, but not for that purpose—instead, to treat a pathology such as endometriosis (a disorder in the lining of the uterus including inflammation)—is not contraception. And an insurance policy that covers prescriptions of drugs for such treatment are not covering contraceptives. Franciscan University’s Insurance Policy does NOT cover contraceptives though it does cover prescriptions of drugs for purposes other than contraception.
Here’s how the Pope in Humanae Vitae defined contraception, that is, the kind of act that is intrinsically morally wrong: “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation–whether as an end or as a means.” (Humanae Vitae, #14) In other words, what defines an act as contraception–the kind of act taught to be morally wrong by the Pope here–is not what chemicals, if any, are used, but doing something either as an end or as a means, in order to prevent procreation.
Then, a few paragraphs below, the Pope added: “On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result therefrom–provided such an impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.” (#15)
The latter would include taking drugs to correct a pathology, injury, or disease, including drugs in other contexts people might use for the purpose of preventing procreation. Here the prevention of procreation–if that is an effect, for if the woman is not ovulating or is not sexually active, then that would not be an effect–would be a side effect, foreseen but not intended, and could be justified if there is a serious reason to take that drug.
The same point is made by the United States bishops in the authoritative teaching in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities: “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.” #53 Procedures that induce sterility as a side effect would include hysterectomies as an example, but also the taking of drugs, for the alleviation of a present and serious pathology, which cause temporary sterility as a side effect.
Thus, when the Newman Society’s blog said that, “Franciscan University of Steubenville provides coverage for contraceptives but not for the purposes of birth control,” that actually is self-contradictory—if the drug is not for the purposes of birth control then it’s not a contraceptive. Franciscan University’s insurance policy does not cover contraceptive prescriptions.
Morally speaking, what you do includes why you did it. If I hit someone in the head with a hammer it better be because it was the proportionate means available to me to prevent him from harming another and not because I feel like doing it out of anger or cruel pleasure. If a doctor prescribes chemicals for cysts, chemicals that could also prevent conception, and the insurance covers those chemicals to treat cysts, the doctor and the insurance have prescribed and covered a treatment for a medical condition.
This is not mere semantics—intentions matter. You can reject that, but you cannot reject it on my behalf.