In March, the Charlotte, NC district office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission closed the investigation of a complaint by eight faculty members against Belmont Abbey College, finding that the college’s decision to exclude contraceptives from its health plan was not discriminatory.
Then, disturbingly, the case was reopened.
Early last month, as reported in the Wall Street Journal by Patrick J. Reilly, director Ruben Daniels Jr. ruled that Belmont Abbey did in fact violate federal law. The EEOC considers that contraceptive coverage in employer-provided health plans is required by the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Now, if Belmont Abbey doesn’t knuckle under, the EEOC will recommend court remedies.
Now, the case isn’t quite as simple as Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society—a group dedicated to renewing the Catholicism of Catholic universities—portrays it in the article. To claim a right to state and federal funding, the college did claim that they weren’t a “pervasively sectarian” institution. Not surprising: The Byzantine logic which surrounds the courts’ current interpretation of church-state separation makes financial aid harder to get if there’s a chance the student might catch religion from the higher-learning institute. Nevertheless, to claim exemption from EEOC regulations on grounds of Catholic belief after claiming the opposite for government money does look opportunistic, not to say hypocritical.
However, it’s also not as clear a case of discrimination as David Niepert, one of the complaining former employees, tries to make it in the commentary attached to the WSJ article. For one thing, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is solely concerned with women who are pregnant, so the EEOC regulation goes beyond its reach. For another, the Pill patently doesn’t support women’s health, since it acts to prevent the natural functioning of the reproductive organs, while long-term use increases the risks of heart attack, stroke, breast cancer and other problems. (Of course, “women’s health” is postmodern liberal double-speak for contraception and abortion; it’s symptomatic of the tendency to treat pregnancy and childbirth as an unnatural and unwholesome “occasional side effect” of sex rather than its biologically-ordered natural results.) For a third, since the health plan doesn’t pay for Trojans any more than it pays for pills or IUDs, and since all other gynecological issues are covered by the plan, it’s simply not clear how refusal to cover contraceptive devices is discriminatory against women unless you’re prepared to argue that female fertility is a health risk by its very nature.
But what astounds me even more than the Orwellian language flip is Niepert’s assertion, in his multiple responses to Reilly’s article, that the new policy refusing to fund contraceptives “forced Catholic religious practice” on him. In fact, Niepert managed to repeat this outrageous allegation several times without anyone defending Reilly or Belmont Abbey College contradicting him. No one pointed out to him the ridiculous invalidity of his comparison to a non-Moslem woman being forced by a Moslem employer to wear a burqa. No one pointed out to him that the cost of birth-control pills is hardly onerous. Quin taces consentire: The deafening silence on this bare absurdity forces me to conclude that the WSJ’s readers didn’t find the assertion unreasonable.
Most people agree that health care is a human right, that no one should be denied access to competent and complete medical treatment of illness or disease for any reason, especially not that of poverty. But while we all (uneasily) agree that the individual’s physician is usually a better judge of what constitutes necessary treatment than are the “accountants in lab coats” at an HMO, it’s also true that there are some treatments and procedures that aren’t medically necessary even by the most generous definition of the term, and whose costs therefore should be borne by the individuals desiring them.
For instance, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would argue that breast-enhancement surgery is medically necessary … I mean, someone outside of the porn industry. (Maybe Gregory House would, but he’s a fictional character; besides, he prescribes abortions for toothaches.) Certainly sex-change—oops, pardon me, “gender-reassignment”—operations fall into this category. You might be able to argue the medical necessity of tubule ligation on a case-by-case basis, if you can demonstrate that a particular woman’s life would be endangered by pregnancy; however, such would not reach a general right to tubule ligations or vasectomies. (The Catholic Church opposes all tubule ligations, but let's not get off on a tangent.)
By no means, by no stretch of the imagination, is the Pill medically necessary. In fact, as I’ve pointed out above, it carries significant health risks precisely because it seeks to prevent what the reproductive organs were designed to do. If a particular woman is determined not to use good sexual judgment, I don’t see why we ought to share the cost of her chemical safety net—or her lover’s condoms—any more than we share the cost of her sex toys. If a married couple has decided they’ve had all the children they can afford to have, I sympathize; however, NFP is a highly effective non-chemical alternative. Besides, “financially prudent” isn’t the same thing as “medically necessary”.
As employees of a college, I presume that Niepert and his fellow complainants were compensated fairly, according to the market for their skills. This means, they probably made much more money than the high-school kids and college students to whom Planned Parenthood hands out the Pill like candy. If it isn’t exactly free, it’s certainly available as a generic drug. Being forced to pay out of pocket for contraceptives is hardly a fiscal burden comparable to paying for, say, anti-rejection medication or dialysis. Neither Niepert nor his spouse—if he has one—was required by the new policy to forego purchase of the Pill; they just had to pony up the money themselves, which was hardly an insuperable obstacle to their own practice.
In sum, not only was Niepert not forced to practice Catholicism, he and his fellow complainants aren’t even valid objects of pity. He and his spouse (or sexual partner or partners) were just as free to be non-Catholic in their sexual practices as they were when Belmont Abbey paid for the pills. The comparison to a non-Moslem woman being forced to wear a burqa is not only false but hysterical in its extremity. As for discrimination, such a conclusion is reached only by very specious arguments, using a law that isn’t written to the issue.
So why did the EEOC reverse itself? Having established that birth control is a matter of individual conscience, the postmodern liberals are now intent on establishing that it is a right superior to individual or collective conscience. It’s not enough that we must tolerate it; we must now actively support it. Nor can we be allowed further exemption or dissent, as a Catholic nurse found out when she was forced to participate in a late second-trimester abortion.
Come the revolution, you’ll eat strawberries and cream and you’ll damn well like them!
Contraceptives are a wedge issue because, as everybody never tires of pointing out, even many Catholics use and accept contraceptives. When most of the people you know have no ethical objections to contraceptives, it’s easy to blow off the controversy, to not pay attention to what’s actually going on, to consider it a tempest in a teapot.
Then, suddenly, a precedent has been established which you never realized before was a gun loaded against you. If being Catholic is no excuse to avoid paying for someone else’s birth-control pills, then it’s no excuse to refuse to pay for someone else’s abortion. And if religion is no reason to refuse medical coverage for abortion, then it’s no reason to refuse medical coverage for “domestic partners” … or to refuse to sacramentalize their weddings.
Finally, if the individual conscience is no excuse for refusing to participate in someone else’s abortion, then it’s no excuse to not have one yourself if the State requires it. Keep in mind that while the most vocal activists for abortion have been the radical feminists, the most quiet ones have been the population-control gurus, most of whom would love government-required sterility and mandated abortions simply because the ignorant masses can’t be trusted to give up breeding by themselves. Population control is what caused Margaret Sanger to found Planned Parenthood, and that organization has never swayed from her rather dystopian vision.
So a lot more is at stake than just a small Benedictine college being railroaded into expanding its health coverage. What happens in the courts will depend on whether there’s anyone left in the judiciary with the intellectual integrity to see what’s going on and stand up against it. Up north in Canada, it seems every month brings forth news of another attack on the rights of the Christian majority by the Canadians’ own provincial governments … most successful. Western Europe is descending by slow degrees into a secularist tyranny more effectively imposed than it would have had the Communists triumphed. Only by defending the rights of Christians to practice their religion can we protect the rights of other, smaller religious groups.