Why E. J. Dionne Is Wrong on Contraceptives and Health Care Reform

The Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne is frequently cited as a progressive Catholic who condemns the recent Obama Administration announcement to require all employers (except exclusively religious bodies) to offer contraceptive insurance coverage as part of comprehensive preventive care.  Mr. Dionne has claimed this health care decision infringes on religious liberty.

I’ve already written about why this is a medically and scientifically smart decision.

But Mr. Dionne’s thinking is inconsistent.  I think this excerpt from “Balancing Faith and Contraceptives” by Scott Lemieux shows where Mr. Dionne’s logic is faulty:

Elsewhere, Dionne effectively refutes his own argument by noting, “While the Catholic Church formally opposes contraception, this teaching is widely ignored by the faithful.” For the same reasons Kevin Drum cites at Mother Jones, if opposition to contraception represented a widely practiced tenet of the Roman Catholic faith, I believe that the government’s interest in securing gender equity with a reasonable, generally applicable law should prevail, but I can understand seeing this as a difficult question. But forgoing contraception is not central to the faith of most practicing Roman Catholics. There’s not a genuine clash between religious freedom and pressing government interests here; rather, a small minority of religious leaders are seeking a special exemption that burdens women in the name of principles the overwhelming majority of their followers reject. The Obama administration’s balancing of the interests here was perfectly appropriate and is better than either alternative Dionne proposes.

In other words, it’s not a matter of “religious freedom” for the Catholic Bishops to try and claim an authority over non-Catholic employees and a secular government that they no longer exercise over their own flock.

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4 Responses to Why E. J. Dionne Is Wrong on Contraceptives and Health Care Reform

  1. Question: Would it be right for Catholic-run institutions to oblige all employees — including non-Catholics — to observe the Lenten fast?

    Of course not. The very heart of religious freedom is individual freedom, especially freedom from coercion. Imposing one’s beliefs and practices on people outside of your faith group is therefore a violation of that principle.

  2. Desmond … an excellent analogy.

    Personally, I wonder if the Catholic Bishops are going to make a “Komen Foundation” mistake in attacking contraceptive preventive care.

  3. W. Kope says:

    Poor analogy. The Catholic institutions are being coerced by the government, not the other way around. In fact, the Catholic institutions are asking that they not be forced to pay for behavior they object to. They are not forcing their employees to avoid the use of contraceptives. They are not forcing their employees to do anything. If an employee elects to engage in sex and they want to avoid pregnancy, they are free to get themselves contraceptives.

    A more accurate analogy would be to force the Catholic institutions to provide all employees with a generous meat-lovers buffet during the Lenten fast.

  4. If their employees are Catholic, and follow the church prohibition against contraception, then not a dime goes to contraception. If an employee chooses to use contraception despite Church rules, then the Church may enforce its rules to the extent of its own authority, which is excommunication. But the Church has never had the legal or ethical right to regulate the insurance industry.

    If they did it would be chaos. Catholics would object to coverage for contraception. Jehovah’s Witnesses would object to coverage for blood transfusion. And the Mormon’s could insist that not a dime be spent on coffee or tea! (Drinking caffeinated beverages is actually an Honor Code offense at Brigham Young University. No kidding).

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