July 28, 1999
What I wanted to discuss with Senator Campbell . . .No government should force its citizens to do something morally repugnant
By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput
Recently, in talking with Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, I raised a concern about Congress' ongoing effort to force the health-care plans available to federal employees to include coverage for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs. Unfortunately, despite his role as chairman of a key Senate subcommittee relating to this issue, the senator wasn't interested, or seemed not to be. Or perhaps he was pressed for time by his many other duties. In any case, he left me little room to explain — so I'll do it here.
True 'freedom of choice'
What I wanted to discuss was my growing unease about Congress' attempts to mandate coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients in health-care programs. It's the issue of coercion which should alarm any reasonable observer.
A year ago, for the first time, Congress forced plans which participate in the federal employees' health-care program (and which cover other prescription drugs as a benefit), to include coverage for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs. It exempted from this mandate only specifically religious plans.
Ironically, even before Congress passed that law, most of the plans in the federal employees' health program already included coverage of contraceptives. Each employee could choose the plan with the coverage he or she wanted. You might say federal employees had "freedom of choice" when it came to picking their health-care coverage. Why, then — one can reasonably ask — would Congress force plans to cover contraceptives?
The answer has little to do with contraception. But it has a lot to do with forcing health-care plans to cover abortifacients — something many don't want to do. Aware of this reluctance to cover drugs which destroy life, Planned Parenthood and others found a way to make the controversial coverage more palatable: Don't call it abortion; call it something else . . . in fact, call it "contraception." The specific term coined is "emergency contraception," which the Food and Drug Administration approved for use up to 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.
"Emergency contraception" (usually, high doses of the birth control pill) can act as a contraceptive by prohibiting ovulation if it has not occurred. However, its more commonly intended use is to render the uterus inhospitable to the fertilized ovum. Clearly, once human life has come into existence, a drug which makes it impossible for that life to continue developing is abortifacient.
Speaking to journalists in Washington, D.C., on June 18, Gloria Feldt of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America insisted that Congress should mandate coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients. But she went further. She let it be known that her group wants no plan exempted. Exemptions are typically covered in "conscience clauses." Feldt called such clauses "another abuse of language that must be challenged." She then asked, "Whose conscience counts? What about the doctor whose conscience says children should be planned and wanted? What about the patient's conscience?"
Unfortunately, one might easily see Ms. Feldt's remarks as deliberately designed to mislead. They have nothing to do with the real abuses at hand — that is, government forcing people and plans to do what they believe deeply is wrong. Current efforts in Congress are crafted to coerce compliance, not to prohibit something.
Each child a gift from God
Prolife and pro-family lobbyists know that waiting in the congressional wings are efforts to force private health insurance plans to cover contraceptive and abortifacient drugs. They also know that some legislators, including some publicly opposed to abortion, are reluctant to oppose "emergency contraception" . . . simply because the word "contraception" is involved. And even though these legislators know that "emergency contraception" means something quite misleading, they don't want to be perceived as opposing family planning. But the fact remains: No matter what language is used to camouflage reality, we're talking about the purposeful destruction of human lives, and we're talking about coercing health-care plans to cover it.
No government (and surely not one representing the "land of the free") should force its citizens — individually or collectively — to do what they find repugnant on religious or moral grounds. Forcing health-care plans — whether those which participate in the federal employees' health-care program, or private plans — to cover contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and services is profoundly offensive to Catholics and other people of faith who view marriage as a sacrament and each child a gift from a loving God. But it's also offensive to all citizens because it sets a dangerous precedent of government interference in each citizen's constitutional right to practice his or her religious beliefs and moral convictions.
That's what I wanted to tell Sen. Campbell, if he'd had the time to listen. And if you feel the same . . . let him know.
Editor's note: Readers may contact: Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Attention: Amy Amato, 380 Russell Senate Building, Washington, D.C. 20510.