This morning’s Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece by Mary Ann Glendon about the Catholic bishops’ defense of religious liberty. They have “filed 12 lawsuits on behalf of a diverse group of 43 Catholic entities that are challenging the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) sterilization, abortifacient and birth-control insurance mandate.”
We all have a right to be outraged by the overreach of that mandate. Surely, any American even the non-religious, see an obligation to stand with the Catholics to defend our liberties of conscience. We might argue about her statement, “The main goal of the mandate is not, as HHS claimed, to protect women’s health. It is rather a move to conscript religious organizations into a political agenda, forcing them to facilitate and fund services that violate their beliefs, within their own institutions.” I am not sure that is right, but would be happy to argue about it. As far as I can tell, Kathleen Sebelius, et. al., think that any religion or stand based on conscience that they do not agree with is not one worth having. A right to conscience in favor of abortion has standing, but if your conscience finds abortion a moral horror, you have no right to conscience about that. That’s why the argument is framed in terms of “women’s right to health”.
I would like to look at that last idea for a moment. How does health become a right? We will have to wrest that right to health from Nature, which is clearly unfair in how it bestows that right. This woman has perfect health and that woman does not. As both age, they find their right to health eroding; maladies from arthritis to cancer attack them and medicine merely offers a holding action against death. What does a national health care system do about that, which a private health care system does not? Health is not a politically defensible right.
Conscience is a political right. I might abandon my conscience, but what, aside from my government, can force me to abandon my conscientious stand? Nature might challenge me; do I believe that an unborn infant has a right to life if that life puts the mother’s life at risk? Fortunately, the hard questions do not arise often. How do I protect my conscience from the challenges of the state? As Glendon says, “At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.”
Therefore, if we wish to retain religion and the right to express it among our rights of conscience, we have to stand with the Catholics in this very political fight. The fight will not merely be in the courts. The next election will have an effect on this fundamental argument. I hope this becomes a major campaign issue; it speaks so clearly about the political choices before us.