If only our Bishops had thought to consult with David Gibson

How foolish our bishops were to not call upon David Gibson for a lesson in casuistry or hair-splitting!  He instructs the bishops it is no moral problem for Catholic institutions to pay for contraception, especially if done indirectly, because their payments would be only remote cooperation with evil. Gibson tells us that if the bishops had only mastered the material in Moral Theology 101, they would know that it is morally permissible to cooperate with evil remotely.

Gibson seems to have missed the class session in Moral Theology 101 where the application of the principles of the kinds of cooperation were fully explained.  He seems to be unaware that demonstrating that the degree of cooperation with evil is immediate or remote in no way settles an issue.  Certainly, it is always wrong to cooperate with evil formally and immediately.  But just because the cooperation with evil is remote does not mean that it is morally permissible or wise to cooperate in an evil action.

One’s unwillingness to cooperate remotely with evil may be influenced by several factors.  Those who are dedicated to fighting a certain evil may choose to refuse to cooperate in any way with that evil in order to give the strongest possible witness to the nature of the evil.  For instance, some people won’t buy a certain product because of the conditions in third world factories where the product is produced. The cooperation is fairly remote and the refusal to buy the product won’t have much effect on changing the poor working conditions. Still, some people want nothing to do with such exploitation and will even inconvenience themselves quite a bit to avoid it.

Some actions are so evil that if one can refuse to cooperate at all, one should.  People who think contraception to be a good thing, think that Church should have no problem funding contraception.  The Church, however, understands contraception to have very bad consequences and wants to dissuade people from doing bad things rather than facilitate them.  (Below I will mention some reasons for this belief.)

Keep in mind that the standard of concern for cooperating with evil is much different for an institution than for an individual. The Catholic Church exists to teach and give witness to important truths of the faith, among them moral truths.  Any systematic cooperation with what is wrong – especially when what is wrong is “intrinsically wrong” such as contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs — conflicts with the very purpose of the institution and should be avoided when possible.  This teaching is one of its key moral teachings.  In Evangelium Vitae John Paul II shows the connection between contraception, abortion, and assisted suicide.  Making the Catholic Church fund contraception and abortion-inducing drugs is like making the Anti-smoking League fund cigarettes (and do remember that at one time, people thought cigarettes posed no danger to health).  It is wrong to make an institution act in violation of the very principles for which exists.

The possibility of causing scandal has always been a major consideration in assessing the morality of cooperating with evil.  One Catholic food bank refused to accept food from Planned Parenthood (it referred them to other places that would accept the food). They would not have been wrong to accept the food; it would have been remote cooperation with evil but they didn’t want the possibility of people seeing their truck in the parking lot of Planned Parenthood and thinking they endorsed Planned Parenthood.  People do draw such conclusions.

If the Catholic Church cooperated with providing contraception great scandal would ensue.  Causing scandal is a kind of hypocrisy; one says one thing and does another.  Gibson wants the Church to be a hypocrite; indeed, we must acknowledge that many would mock the Church if it used the reasoning Gibson promotes in respect to almost any other issue.

If the bishops accept the ruse that Obama has offered and indirectly pay for contraception, the enemies of the Church will be oh so ready to claim that since the Church cooperates with payment for contraception it must approve of contraception. And we must admit, there would be a modicum of logic in their thinking.

Some of the bishops’ reasons for opposing payment for contraception, it seems, have never been pondered by Gibson. Gibson thinks there are some “greater goods” to be gained by cooperating with the funding of contraception, among them, the reduction of abortions. Suppose the Church thinks – for good reason – that more contraception leads to more abortions.  It is not at all difficult to establish a correlation with the rise of abortions and the acceptance of the pill in the sixties.  Nor is causation so hard to establish; contraception clearly enables women (and men) to engage in sex with no expectation of a pregnancy but when a pregnancy happens, they often have recourse to abortion.  The average real life failure rate of the pill is nearly 9%, of the condom 15%. Who would get in a car that in a “real-life” situation was susceptible to major failure 9% or 15% of the time?

Gibson also unreflectively accepts the simplistic claim that contraception will reduce medical costs. Really?  The Church considers contraception to be always wrong for many reasons, among them that it is an assault on a woman’s healthy fertility system.  The hidden costs of contraceptive practice are huge (increase incidence of breast cancer, strokes, migraines, depression, etc.).  And contraceptive lifestyles are tightly connected with increased welfare costs.  Contraceptives fail.  Often.  (The pill 9%; the condom 15%; please remember these figures). The vast majority of single women faced with unwed pregnancies who don’t get abortions become single parents. Single parenthood is certainly a major cause of poverty in this country.  Moreover, there is strong evidence that the contraceptive lifestyle that leads many people to have sex before marriage, to cohabit and also to commit adultery, is a major cause of divorce.  And divorce too is a major cause of poverty.

Contraception is not just some arcane matter; it truly is a social justice issue and contributes to more evil than many people can imagine.  People need to wake up and realize the profound damage done by contraception. (There are many good sources that document this; I recommend Lionel Tiger’s The Decline of Males, more true now than when it was written over a decade ago or Mary Eberstadt’s “The Vindication of Humanae Vitae”)

Why should Catholics or anyone else have to pay for nonmedical care that has terrible physical, relational, and social consequences? (Of course, some women may take the hormones in the “pill” for some physical conditions such as endometriosis but they are not thereby contracepting and Catholics would, of course, pay for such treatment.)

Obama’s mandate does not just promote something that Catholics think is intrinsically wrong. As the bishops and others note, it also violates the freedom of Catholics (and others) to act upon their religious beliefs and, indeed, forces them to act against their beliefs.  The fact that so many religious groups and institutions who do not object to the use of contraception have joined the bishops in their opposition to the mandate demonstrates that the key issue is religious liberty.  If the bishops and others went along with Obama’s mandate they would be cooperating with the evil of violating religious liberty.  The Catholic Church understands the right to religion to be the foremost right.  Again, it would be working against its own purposes to permit this violation of religious liberty.

This country was founded by people who left their homelands so they could practice their religion freely.  The bishops and others are willing to undertake a difficult battle and incur great expense to fight a violation of religious liberty – a fundamental right.  Obama is determined to put aside the constitutional right to religious liberty – a defining characteristic of this country — for the purpose of providing …… contraception.  That really is a petty and pathetic decision.

A small committee in the White House is imposing its views of the value of contraception on the whole nation.  We all are expected to pay for what some social engineers dream up.  This is not democracy at work.

Why isn’t Gibson noting how ridiculous it is that the only free service to be supplied by health insurance is contraception!  Moral Theology 101 should cover the fundamentals of social justice.  Free provision of contraception — something most women can afford and something that does nothing to address health issues — is a very poor way to allocate scarce resources.  No preferential option for the poor here – every woman will get free contraceptives even those in the top 1%! How silly is that?  Why not provide services for free that the poor truly need? The poor might want free checkups, free insulin, free antibiotics, free chemotherapy, and free infertility treatments — all of which directly serve life.

Not only does Obama’s mandate fail to provide services people really need, it also will lead to invaluable services being denied to the poor and needy. The Church may decide it needs to suspend some of its services rather than cooperate with paying for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacient drugs (and who knows what is next, assisted suicide?).  Already governments have forbidden Catholics to act in accord with fundamental beliefs.  Because of the decisions of a small committee in the Obama administration, Catholic agencies, for instance, no longer receive government funding to help rescue women from sexual trafficking.  Now Obama’s policies will threaten the great good that Catholics do in providing a great deal of the free health care that goes to the indigent.  These are direct evils associated with Obama’s obsession with contraception.  Obama is the one who will be responsible for Catholic institutions either closing or confining their services to Catholics only.

I invite Mr Gibson to school Obama on the wrongness of undercutting the effectiveness of institutions that provide tremendously needed social services, just because his beliefs do not accord with theirs.

Professor Janet E. Smith is the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Over 2 million copies of Smith’s CD Contraception: Why Not have been distributed and is available at janetesmith.org.



23 thoughts on “If only our Bishops had thought to consult with David Gibson

  1. [...] in an infelicitously condescending piece in USA Today, argues for the opposite view, to which Janet Smith delivers a blazing refutation at CatholicVote. More recently on Public Discourse, Christopher [...]

  2. Aaron Dewees says:

    First, when it comes to matters of health & medicine (and this is after all being billed as a healthcare issue, right?) we don’t say a man can’t be an OB-Gyn because he can’t ever be pregnant and doesn’t have a uterus or ovaries. We don’t dismiss a Psychiatrist who has never personally dealt with a mental illness from being able to care for those who have. We don’t say a male oncologist can’t treat a woman for breast cancer because he doesn’t understand what it is like to have breasts. We don’t say a heterosexual therapist can’t help a homosexual…in fact we say they MUST learn how. There is no doubt that being a woman gives special insight and credibility to caring for other women that I (as a man) will not understand. But I don’t believe it makes a man completely incapable of understanding the plight of a woman. In fact, my wife and I practice NFP, and she will be the first to tell you that I understand her fertility and keep the charts better than she does. It is quite humorous when she tells her friends…”I rely on my husband to understand and follow my cycles J” Just imagine the text message: ”Honey, when is my peak day?” My second counterpoint: so let’s say for arguments sake we should leave men out of the discussion on issues relating to a woman’s fertility. Doesn’t that mean that all mean should step away from the argument – those for the HHS mandate as well as those against? Then the president should actually recuse himself because he doesn’t know what it is like to take contraception and he doesn’t have ovaries or a uterus so how could he possibly speak to this aspect of women’s health? When the Supreme Court decided Roe v Wade – the Justices who can’t possibly understand pregnancy should have recused themselves. How can a man, who will never be pregnant, decide if ending a pregnancy is Right or Wrong? I am sure you get my point!

  3. Dave says:

    Yes! Contraception, available in any form, suggests that society will cease to reproduce. This is none more evident in societies like China where population controls are state mandated with an under populated society as a brazen example. Furthermore, the provision that health care providers provide health care services that are approved by doctors, rather than bishops, shows a gross misunderstanding of what health care is all about. I mean, our founders understood these simple facts and wrote somewhere that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,…” Clearly, laws need to be in place to respect the establishment of the catholic church’s religious convictions since all the other churches have no clue how this will end up; forcing all women to take the pill… right? I’ll go ahead and -1 my own post on the general of supporting the first amendment in lieu of sharia law.

  4. JohnE says:

    Thank you Dr. Janet Smith. I’d invite people to get Dr. Smith’s cd, “Contraception: Why Not”. This helped me and my non-Catholic wife many years ago after our first child when the doctor got her prescribed on birth control pills. I highlighted all the side effects on the insert and had her listen to the cd. She still wasn’t completely convinced, but at least enough to stop taking that poison.


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