NOTRE DAME — The federal government’s mandate forcing employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs was the subject of a panel discussion here on April 15 that drew a sizable audience of University of Notre Dame students. Panelists covered the topic, including the status of Notre Dame’s legal challenge of the mandate, the Church’s teaching on contraception, and the health and social problems created by contraception and abortion.
Law Professor Gerard Bradley, an expert on constitutional law, explained that religious liberty is at stake in the various lawsuits that challenge the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate, as well as the nation-wide impetus toward same-sex marriage.
Bradley said that court decisions and legislative actions over the next five years on those topics will “map out the world of religion in public and private life.” This mapping will determine whether religious people will be required to refrain from manifesting and acting on their beliefs in business and the public square, he said.
Bradley explained that religious plaintiffs have filed 20 lawsuits against the HHS mandate, and 19 of those lawsuits (most of which have multiple plaintiffs) have resulted in injunctions that gave the plaintiffs relief from compliance.
The only religious plaintiff not receiving an injunction is the University of Notre Dame, he said. Thus, the university is complying “under protest” and has sought a rehearing from the entire nine-member 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The first appeals court hearing was before just a three-judge panel, who voted 2-1 to uphold a lower court’s denial of an injunction. Bradley said that Notre Dame has at least a 50-50 chance of obtaining an injunction from the full Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Hobby Lobby case, now being considered by the Supreme Court with a decision expected in June, will shed some light on the Notre Dame case, Bradley said, but is not the same because Hobby Lobby is a for-profit corporate entity. It is also possible that one or more of the religious plaintiffs’ cases — such as the Little Sisters of the Poor as the lead case — may go to the Supreme Court and be decided in 2015, Bradley said, and this would more directly impact Notre Dame.
If all legal avenues eventually fail, Bradley said that one possibility would be for the large number of aggrieved religious parties — which includes dioceses, hospitals, colleges, religious orders and non-Catholic entities — to band together to resist compliance and refuse to pay the onerous fines for noncompliance.
Carter Snead, a Notre Dame law professor who is also director of the university’s Center for Ethics and Culture, which sponsored the panel discussion, was panel moderator and added that even if the religious plaintiffs lose in the Supreme Court in 2015, a president who did not want to impose the mandate on the country could simply undo it.
Panelist Jessica Keating, director of Notre Dame’s University Life Initiatives and coordinator of the Human Dignity Project, said that the way birth control is marketed is a challenge for the Church. She showed a video ad for a contraceptive that focused on consumerism, autonomy and choice, treating the idea of pregnancy as a burden that interferes with a woman’s life plans and desires. This attitude treats the child as a commodity, putting persons on an equal value with things, she said.
Such an attitude weakens the ability to encounter the other person and is foreign to the Christian concept of a baby as a gift received through self-giving love between spouses, she said. And this self-giving love is exemplified in Jesus:
“The very vision of the self-giving love of Christ grounds the Church’s teaching on birth control and human relationship,” she said.
Jeanette Burdell, program director for Saint Joseph County Right to Life and a former crisis pregnancy counselor for the Women’s Care Center, spoke about the damage contraceptives do to a woman. This damage makes her more susceptible to various cancers, blood clots and disorders of the reproductive system, as well as infertility. Contraceptives also alter the sex attraction hormones that affect one’s choice of a mate and make a woman more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases, she said. And abortifacient drugs increase these risks even more.
All of these risks are borne by women, not men, Burdell noted, yet mainstream society does not question this practice, and pharmacy companies market contraceptives and doctors prescribe them “like water” because they seem better than pregnancy.
“So, where is the real war on women coming from?” she asked rhetorically.
What is really concerning, she continued, is the “rampant acceptability” of these drugs that are being less regulated and monitored, with even young teens being able to access some of the drugs without medical or parental supervision. This is “health harm, not health care,” she continued, and she predicted an “epidemic” of health problems resulting from ingesting these drugs.
Burdell said that her experience tells her that contraception leads to an abortion mentality, for contraception rejects the outcome of the sexual act. She spoke of women she counseled who had gotten pregnant while using birth control, so they felt justified having an abortion because they had been “responsible” about avoiding pregnancy.
Notre Dame junior Erin Stoyell-Mulholland, who is president of Notre Dame Right to Life, was the fourth speaker. She said that the HHS mandate sends a message that fertility is something that needs to be fixed and that to be successful, women must reject part of who they are — their fertility — in order to level the playing field with men.
The Catholic Church has a “more natural and pro-woman view than society,” she said, a view that women and men are equal but different, and that the potential for motherhood is an “incredible” gift. The Church upholds and cherishes the dignity of women, she said, and it endorses Natural Family Planning as a system for each woman to understand her own body and thus avoid or achieve pregnancy through that understanding.
True success does not mean that a woman must leave her fertility at door, Stoyell-Mulholland said, adding that equality would mean helping those who choose to parent, not just taking the easy way out by providing free contraceptives.
“The government claims to speak for women,” she said, “but they do not speak for me. I am a Notre Dame woman, and I support the university’s case against the HHS mandate.”
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