A Foreign View of the HHS Mandate

Perhaps it is because I am a European living in Europe and, thereby, not so entangled in the HHS mandate issue (and have less to lose) that I cannot understand the thinking that surrounds the response of some Catholics in the US.  From where I stand, across The Pond, compliance with the HHS mandate is, in most cases, a instance of remote material cooperation with evil that ought to be avoided if possible but is justifiable if not.

In this essay, therefore, I am going to argue that while it is good and proper to fight the HHS mandate—because it facilitates evil medical and sexual practices—nevertheless, if the current legal challenge to the mandate fails, compliance can be justified in the majority of cases.  I am also going to argue that while there is a duty to oppose the mandate (something courageously undertaken by many Catholic organizations and bishops in the US), opposing it on the grounds of religious freedom or freedom of conscience is a high-risk strategy that could have harmful consequences.

HHS Mandate and Cooperation
It is widely accepted by Catholic ethicists that remote material cooperation with evil is allowed, but that immediate cooperation is not.  Some people in the States think complying with the HHS mandate is immediate cooperation and therefore is not permitted, but I think it is only remote material cooperation and therefore licit, and here is why.

When an employer purchases for an employee an insurance policy that covers a range of medical services, including services deemed immoral by sound morality, the employer is mediately and not immediately cooperating with evil if and when the employee uses this policy to access these abhorrent services.  I say this is “mediate” cooperation because the health insurance policy covers all sorts of services and so the purchasing of it is not uniquely ordered to the provision of the immoral ones.

In contrast, the insurance company that pays for the immoral service (accessed by the employee) is immediately cooperating because their payments are uniquely ordered in this case to that immoral service.  Unlike the employer who purchases the policy, the insurance company actually pays for the service: since paying for something means more than contributing money, it means assigning some money to some particular good or service (cf. Aquinas, II Quodlibet, 1.2).  Now paying for evil seems to instigate it and not merely set the scene for it.   Accordingly, it is reasonable to call it immediate cooperation, which is illicit.

The up-shot of this is that while self-insurance of employees by a Catholic organization is likely to be problematic to the extent that the Catholic organization is also effectively the insurance company, buying third party insurance policies is only a form of remote mediate cooperation and, therefore, can be justified when, in the pursuit of a good goal, it cannot be avoided.

Much more needs to be said about the issue of self-insurance but, in a short essay, this is not possible.  I will restrict myself here simply to saying that self-insurance raises moral problems that insurance through a third party does not.   Moreover, since those Catholic organizations that currently self-insure can switch to a third party mode of insurance, to show that there is a way out of the current impasse, I only need to demonstrate that insurance through a third party can be justified.

The Funfair
When an employer purchases a policy from a third party, from the point of view of the employer, the insurance package is a part of the remuneration of the employee, alongside the wage.  Now, the wage paid to the employee as part of this package may also be used immorally by the employee to pay for an abortion, condoms, a prostitute, a pornographic magazine, and so on.  Currency is, by definition, a token to access all purchasable services and goods in the society.  In paying the salary at the end of the month, the employer is cooperating in any evil service or immoral good that the employee purchases with that money.  This is certainly cooperation with evil but it is remote and tolerable.  It is remote cooperation because it is not uniquely ordered to the evil that the wrong-doer does and only very generally provides the context for the wrong doing.

Seen in this light, there is little difference between the cooperation that occurs via the wage and that which might occur via the insurance policy.  Of course, this argument is a kind of negative proof of my thesis by a form of reductio ad absurdum because I am arguing that if complying with the HHS mandate is an unjustifiable cooperation with evil then so is paying wages; but paying wages is not wrong.

To illustrate the argument that there is no significant difference between paying wages that will be used immorally and buying an insurance policy that will be used immorally let me give an analogy.  Imagine a fun park in which there are different rides and entertainments including, in one corner, a tarot card reader (you have to imagine an old style English fair here rather than Disney Land).  In this fun park, you can buy a ticket that gives free admission to any activity for the whole day (a day ticket) or, alternatively, you can pay for admission to each activity individually.  As birthday presents, I give one friend a day ticket (analogous to the insurance cover) and one friend sixty euros in cash (analogous to the wages) to spend in the park.  I cannot see that I am more responsible for one or the other if they decide to go to the tarot card reader, especially when I have warned them both about it and voiced my disapproval of it, despite my enthusiasm for the rest of the park.  In either case, I am mediately materially cooperating with the friend, if he goes to the tarot card reader.

Constraining Evil
However, perhaps someone might point out that the friend with the day ticket is more likely to use it to visit the tarot card reader because it does not “cost” him anything to visit the tarot card reader, whereas the other friend will deplete his sixty euros if he visits her.  In this way, it might be argued that providing insurance coverage for the employee (that necessarily covers immoral services) increases the likelihood of him availing himself of immoral services for which he would otherwise have to use his wages.  Note that the insurance policy does not give access to these immoral services—it merely pays for them.  In this sense, compliance with the HHS mandate would boil down to an employer removing a constraint that currently deters (but does not prohibit) the employee from availing himself of immoral services.  The employee can get the immoral services via his wages, but he is more likely to get them if he has insurance.  Perhaps this is where the problem of cooperation with evil on the part of the employer really resides—he removes a (financial) constraint on the employee doing evil?

Now, I am not sure if this is true because to a person who wants contraceptives or an abortion these are considered by him or her to be essential.  The seeker of such services will be happier to get them at no extra cost, for sure, but he will get them anyway if he cannot get them on insurance.  Therefore, the insurance does not clearly remove a financial constraint on the employee, much less an essential impediment.

Moreover, in the pursuit of a good goal, it can be legitimate to remove something that is constraining a person from doing what is wrong.  Imagine I am responsible for the computers in a Catholic college.  One aspect of my work is to provide the internet access for my colleagues and students that they needed for their work.  However, by providing this access, I remove a constraint to the viewing of pornography, since the possibility of accessing pornography comes with having internet access.  I say “constraint” because those inclined to get hold of pornography could do so without internet access.  They can buy it in the local book store.  However, this will cost them more and require more effort, so the internet obviously makes viewing pornography that much more likely.

Should I refuse to give internet access on the basis that I cannot in good conscience remove a constraint on a serious evil?  I answer “no” because while I foresee that providing internet access includes removing a constraint on evil, I do not will this side-effect.  In pursuit of a good goal (keeping my job or facilitating research), I can tolerate the removal of this constraint.

The same is true of the purchase of insurance under the HHS mandate.  It may remove a constraint on the use of immoral services by some employees: services they can already legally access if they pay for them out of the money the employer pays them.  However, in the pursuit of a good goal—either the company staying in business or the provision of health coverage for employees and their dependants—the removal of a constraint on evil is tolerable because the constraint is not very significant (even if the evil is great) and the good pursued is important.

In conclusion then, if we focus on the fact that the employer will be financially contributing to immoral services, the case is no different from paying the salary.  If we focus on the fact that buying insurance might increase the possibility of employees accessing the services, this entails the removal of a constraint on wrong doing that is tolerable given the goods being pursued and the limited character of the constraint.

What to do?
It is, of course, right that Catholic organizations oppose the HHS mandate.  Opposition is required in order to avoid scandal and to try to avoid even remote cooperation with evil, since even this form of cooperation should be avoided if possible.  It is also required because the HHS mandate has given another opportunity for Catholics to stand up for the truth.  Such opportunities should never be squandered.

The Catholic community in the United States, and the bishops in particular, should be commended for the stand they have taken against the HHS mandate.  They have taken seriously the moral duty to proclaim the truth about human sexuality and the sanctity of life, truths increasingly opposed by secular forces in society, epitomized by the mandate.  However, I argue that if the legal challenge to this mandate is lost, Catholic employers can comply with the mandate—by purchasing an insurance policy that covers immoral services—without unjustifiably cooperating with evil.  They are cooperating and it is with an evil, but it is justified.  Of course, they are not morally obliged to cooperate: I am only saying that they can.

One question remaining is whether or not an effort should be made to get exceptions to the HHS mandate on the grounds of freedom of religion or freedom of conscience.  This, I have to admit, makes me very nervous.

Regarding the first—freedom of religion—the problem is that it simply is not a religious question.  Abortion, contraception, and sterilization are no more a religious issues than are murder, rape, and incest.   I fear that to claim an exception on the basis of religious liberty has a long term negative effect on morality in society because it leads people to think that right and wrong is not something that can be known by reason but is just about religious sensibilities.

Regarding liberty of conscience, I think this is ultimately conceding ground to relativism.  The fact is that liberty of conscience only exists in indifferent matters.  There can be liberty of conscience about whether the holy day in the week is Friday, Saturday, or Sunday because this cannot be settled by reason alone.  But there can be no liberty of conscience in matters of stealing, raping, or paying reasonable taxes because reason can decide these issues.  Therefore to claim liberty of conscience on the HHS mandate is to place abortion, sterilization, and contraception in the former category of indifferent matters.  But this is just what the relativists claim and what we should deny.

The only benefit I can see about the freedom of conscience argument is that if it is granted by the State it is then, on their side, an implicit admission that one cannot know for sure whether the law is a just one.  After all, when the State is certain about the justice of its laws—laws on theft, and tax, and so on—it does not give exception clauses on the basis of conscience.  Hence, in this way, perhaps a freedom of conscience clause might act as a kind of Trojan horse within the law because it is an admission about the possible injustice of the law that might in time develop into a clearer recognition of its injustice.  However, given what I have said about its relativist undertones, claiming freedom of conscience is a very risky strategy indeed.

William Newton


William Newton is Associate Professor of Theology and Chair of Faculty at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Austrian Campus. He is also Visiting Professor at the International Theological Institute in Trumau, near Vienna, and Maryvale Institute, Birmingham U.K. Dr. Newton has published on a range of issues including Catholic social teaching and sexual ethics. Though originally from the U.K., he presently lives in Austria with his wife Claire and their five children.

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  • Gary

    I just removed my family as participants and myself as administrator of the health plan our business offers to employees. I came to the conclusion that purchasing the coverage for our employees was immediate cooperation while it would be potentially mediate for an employee to receive the benefit. However, there are options that include no cooperation with evil. Two I found were the Christian medical coops Medi-Share and Samaritan Ministries. Not all will qualify (one of my sons did not because he had been a smoker and was not smoke-free for a year) but for those who do, I would contend, it is incumbent upon them to consider these options and thereby removing themselves from any material cooperation with evil. On a separate note, we already see how far down the road to Perdition we Catholics in this country have come by using this kind of moral reasoning to accept evil. If we do not stand together against this horrible evil now, when will we?

  • john

    I think Newton’s analogies are faulty because many of these organizations currently provide perfectly acceptable health care for their employees which do not pay for contraception, etc. The HHS mandate’s purpose is not to provide a good (health care) where none currently exists. It is about forcing those organizations who currently do not pay for contraception, etc., to include it in their current plans. By way of analogy, many Catholic/Christian-run businesses already provide Fair access for everything minus the Tarot hag, they provide Internet access with some anti-evil filters built-in. No, the mandate has nothing to do with providing health care to those who have no recourse. Under the ruse of so-called minimum standards of care, it really aims to ensure the Tarot lady and the internet porn sections SPECIFICALLY are paid for by the employer in order to assert the supremacy of HHS. In this struggle, the hands of all men and women of goodwill are needed on deck, each according to his or her ability. The Bishops have chosen to resist according to their best judgment. I agree with them; recourse to the rhetoric of religious freedom still has the potential to tap into springs of Americans’ love of liberty that have not completely evaporated (yet). Will the world end if they fail? Possibly not. But they seem to understand (finally) that the liberal state is not the ally they once assumed it to be.

    • Adam__Baum

      “for their employees which do not pay for contraception”

      Minor point of order. Contraception is not “health care”, and we should not accept the premise that it is healthcare. Healthcare is the use of the medical arts to protect, preserve, prolong or restore normal function. Contraception is the use of chemicals or physical barriers to DEFEAT normal function.

      Additionally, directing scarce resources (sorry, the true believers in the false god of the administrative superstate and other agoraphobes believe that economic scarcity ceases to exist, once bureaucracy begins allocating goods) to contraception directs scarce resources away from real healthcare.

      • James Stagg

        Excellent point, Adam, and one which has been glossed over in all discussions, political as well as religious. Not only is contraception NOT “health care”, but also abortion.

        What will happen when Justice Kennedy opines that it is “hate speech” to differentiate between partial birth abortion and infanticide? Who will have the guts to call that murder? Is it a remote instance of cooperation with evil if we do not actually wield the knife that cuts the spinal cord?

        What will happen (next) when euthanasia becomes “health care” and its cost is to be covered by “national health care”? Can we pretend, at that point, that such an HHS mandate is “acceptable?

  • NE-Christian

    Sophisticated rationalization to justify a compromise with evil has been honed to an exceptionally high level in our current world. Having lived and worked in Europe for well over a decade and seen up close the results in many ‘Catholic’ countries – e.g. Italy, France, Spain, etc. – I am neither surprised nor convinced by Mr. Newton’s well-structured and argued position. Taking his position in contemporary America is all too easy and convenient for those who would rather not ‘shake up’ the complacency of the ‘go along to get along’ attitude so pervasive today. MR. Newton, thank you for your efforts. But, no thanks, not possible for your conclusion – as the saying goes – ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions’ – if you fail to see the results of all those good intentions – well, the end is obvious.

    • William Newton

      Cooperation with evil is unavoidable at some level. Everyone who pays taxes cooperates when they are misused, for example. Even God cooperates with evil to the extent that He keeps me alive while I sin (hence, in my case, He is cooperating rather frequently). Accordingly, there needs to be some analysis of when cooperation is justified and when it is not. As I have clearly stated in my essay, I whole-heartedly support the efforts of the American Bishops to defeat the HHS mandate. I pray that they succeed. All I argue is that compliance would be a form of mediated remote cooperation with evil, as is paying taxes (of which some is misused). I would be most interested in specific citicism of my analysis of this issue. Of course I could be wrong, the issue is a complex one and I am not an organ of the Magisterium! However, so far in the comments made, I do not see any specific criticism of my argument, only a criticism of me or of trends in society or the Church, these may well be justified – but they do not get us very far.

      • Alan Lille

        Does this quote of yours, “therefore, can be justified when, in the pursuit of a good goal, it cannot be
        avoided” constitute consequentialism? And also, it seems difficult to argue that “it cannot be avoided.”

  • Adam__Baum

    We have seen the effects of Europe’s judgment about the proximity of material cooperation with evil, and the results are in: millions slaughtered, the loss of Christian heritage-exchanged for a peculiar fusion of hedonism and nihilism, but only as prelude to Islamicization, demographic freefall.

    Mr. Newton, you remind me of why we threw your tea in Boston Harbor.

  • James Stagg

    I am rather surprised by the idea, promoted by Dr. Newton, that we are not, individually or corporately, responsible for the actions of others with whom we have some relationship. Is it not our obligation, as children of G-d, to prevent others from doing harm to themselves? How, then, do we make excuses for “shucking” that responsibility?

    From a simple business relationship, would the author avoid judging those who steal pencils, pens and paper, just as he alibis those who steal computer access time for pornography? Would he recommend that a worker be absolved from dipping into the paycheck of a fellow worker and taking what money he feels “entitled” to? Obviously, the author makes the same error our esteemed Messiah-in-chief makes in thinking that contraceptive and abortion coverage is “free” (pray tell, how does Planned parenthood make its millions, or the drug companies that make contraceptives keep their doors open?). Right. The “insured” company pays for that bogus “healthcare”, and all the employees contribute something to that end; the money MUST come from somewhere..

    From a personal standpoint, would the author grant such freedom to his own children….to make these critical decisions about whether to sin or not sin? Of course not (hopefully). But he would willingly cooperate in providing immature and uniformed, and perhaps downright stupid, people the capability to commit sin? Because that’s what it is…….SIN. Would he, indeed, hand a loaded and cocked pistol to an eighteen-year-old, and say nothing of the consequences of handling it?
    There are legal consequences for that, or providing “one more drink”, that will always be argued in court as “unknowing, accidental, REMOTE FROM THE CRIME”. At what point is the observant Christian, Jew, Muslim or what-have-you not responsible for TERMINATING a life….even if only newly conceived?

    I don’t think I want to face G-d with that “remote” excuse. Didn’t Cain already use it to no avail?

    • William Newton

      Dear James – thanks for these thoughts.
      I think that you ARE going to be facing our Lord on the day of judgment with the remote excuse, as you put it. Perhaps you have a bank account? You deposit money in it and the bank lends it: have you checked whether perhaps they lend it to a man who uses it to buy condoms (among other things) or a woman to get and abortion? If they do, then you have cooperated with contraception/abortion. But this is remote cooperation and excusable. But as I point out above, God is also cooperating remotely with evil by keeping every sinner in existence (you and me): so I do not think you or I will be judged for this.
      Regarding parental responsibility – yes, I have more responsibility over the moral behaviour of my children than an employer has over employees. The relationship is different and therefore there are different duties. Hence I am more responsible for how my children use their pocket money (were they to get any) than how my employees (had I some) use their wages. However, even here I often have to tolerate bad behviour for the sake of the common greater good [note I say tolerate]. If I correct my children for every wrong-doing then the family turns into a prison camp and the joy evaporates. Everyone in a place of responsibility knows this – we tolerate evil for the sake of a greater good – it is how God runs the Universe too, as far as I can see.

      • James Stagg

        Dear Dr. Newton, are you a relative of Bill Clinton’s? You remember his famous comment about the use of the word “is” and it’s meaning?

        I do not wish to debate your extremely remote use of the word “remote”.

        Obviously, I cannot control when, where, how, why or even if my bank chooses to loan my money to a philanderer or crook, or to be redundant, a politician. I cannot control how the various forms of government under which I live spends my tax dollars, whether they are spent for food stamps or “obama-phones”, or finance drone attacks on innocent civilians.

        On the other hand, you must concede that there is a specific relationship for employers and parents and religious institutions DIRECTLY to the funds which are to be expended for abortion or contraception. in my mind (and in the CCC), these two acts are both criminal acts. To participate DIRECTLY in financing these crimes would be an approval of these crimes…….though not yet committed, and thus (in your term) a remote act. Simply substitute “murder” for either act, and you get the drift of my argument.

        So, how ever far off you stand when you shoot the bullet, if it strikes someone, YOU are responsible. “Distance” from the crime seems a poor alibi.

        • William Newton

          Dear James,
          Many thanks for these thoughts.

          Physical distance indeed makes no difference to the responsibility (hence the distance you shoot at is not significant) but causal distance makes a difference. Hence, if I work in a factory that make guns and someone buys this gun and uses it to murder another person then the causal distance means that while I have cooperated with murder – in the sense of setting the scene – I am not responsible for the murder. If I load the gun knowing the use it will be put to then I may well be culpable – but this is an issue of causal proximity and not physical distance to the murderer.

          The tax issue is pertinent because, as far as I understand the situation, the law in the US requires you to pay all the tax (or there will be penalties) and the new law requires all health insurance policies to cover evil procedures (or there will be penalties). You are free not to cooperation and so to pay the penalties in each case, but I merely argue that in each case (somewhat differently) there is remote cooperation.

          In neither case (tax or insurance) is this dollar I pay specifically assigned to this evil procedures or action. Rather I set the scene for others to do evil. Therefore, I conclude that the cooperation in each case is mediated and not immediate.

          • James Stagg

            Thank you for your time, Dr. Newton. Thank you for the energy you have expended in offering general absolution (if you have the faculties) to those who may be weary of fighting a government morality at great odds with Catholic Faith and practice.

            An opinion is a fine thing to have. You keep yours, and I’ll keep mine. I am finished with this argument, as I detect a remote instance of changing your mind (or you changing mine).

  • tamsin

    I liked your theme park analogy. Perhaps many problems would be resolved if health care had never been captured as a benefit received from employers in this country.

    I appreciated your discussion of the possible drawbacks to arguments from freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

    I fear that to claim an exception on the basis of religious liberty has a long term negative effect on morality in society because it leads people to think that right and wrong is not something that can be known by reason but is just about religious sensibilities.

    Absolutely. For instance, we reason that life starts at conception. That reasoned view should not be “consigned to the dustbin” of revealed religion.

    We can also reason that marriage is between one man and one woman for the benefit of the child. We can’t let our witness to this truth be swept away in the popular culture as nothing more than irrational, unreasonable, religious sensibility.

    Furthermore, there are plenty of religions that make arguments for abortion and for polygamy. For instance, in order to claim our own religious liberty, are we really prepared to accept the various claims made by Muslims?

    The only benefit I can see about the freedom of conscience argument is that if it is granted by the State it is then, on their side, an implicit admission that one cannot know for sure whether the law is a just one. After all, when the State is certain about the justice of its laws—laws on theft, and tax, and so on—it does not give exception clauses on the basis of conscience. …Because the law is the country’s morality written down. It answers the question, “how then shall we live?”. I would like to see advocates of abortion and gay marriage stop hiding behind words like “freedom” and “equality” and acknowledge the fact that they propose “morality”, by hook or by crook. By a majority of our Supreme Court.

    • Adam__Baum

      “Perhaps many problems would be resolved if health care had never been captured as a benefit received from employers in this country”

      This is absolutely true, but it’s useful to discuss how it happened.

      The initial forays of employer provided healthcare were for the employer’s benefit. A locomotive engineer for example, was a man who often spent years proving his profiency and reliability to the railroad, so the railroad might provide hospitalization to get him back behind the throttle.

      However, in the 1940’s, the Roosevelt Administration, which had already spent a decade intervening in the American economy, enacted “wage and price controls” in an attempt to control war costs. This didn’t change the need for critical defense industries to obtain sufficient personnel to meet defense contract obligations, so employers began increasing the offering things like paid vacation and hospitalization as forms of remuneration.

      After the war, the IRS was beginning to notice that employees (especially where there was collective bargaining) were receiving enough non-taxable compensation to make a dent in the federal government’s take. So, they began “imputing” income under the “economic benefit doctrine, which states that compensation received in forms other than cash still is considered income and is subject to tax.

      This of course outraged people who were now used to receiving healthcare as nontaxable, and who couldn’t elect out or exchange those benefits for cash, since group plans generally required all employees to be covered in order to avoid “adverse selection” (the tendency for individuals who expect to need insurance to seek or maintain it) .

      Having been beseiged by outraged coonstituents, when Congress rewrote the tax code in 1954, it enacted Sec. 106, which exempts employer paid health insurance from tax WITHOUT LIMIT. It ossified the tendency of employees to seek employer paid healthcare because of this tax preference, a preference that was especially valuable in the high marginal rate envoeronment of the 1950’s.

      In short, the present situation is the result of a series of conditions and decisions that produced unforeseen consequences. None of these conditions or decisions had a fraction of the scope or intrusiveness of Obamacare; in fifty or sixty years, there will be similar unforeseen consequences, only these consequences will be geometrically greater in scope and intrusiveness.

    • William Newton

      Dear Tasmin,

      You rightly point out that the same religion/reason issue arises with so called same sex marriage. In the U.K. the whole recent debate on this issue has been framed in such a way as to suggest that opposition to same-sex marriage is a religious opposition. The exception given by the U.K. law to the Church of England compounds this and also compounds the idea that morality is a religious idea. That is disastrous. We should be very cautious to do anything to reinforce this.

      If you are interested, I recently wrote something on this too: http://www.newoxfordreview.org/article.jsp?did=0713-newton

  • Alecto

    This is an admirable effort by a foreigner to suggest that gagging down the toxic stew of universal healthcare is not impossible. Unfortunately, foreigners do not, and never can truly understand the American psyche. They do not understand that we view our rights as our property, which when taken away, especially by colluding government branches using surreptitious mechanisms, provoke unequal retaliation.

    The solution is not to make the toxic stew more palatable, or to explain why and how compliance does not equate with complicity in moral evil. The solution is total annihilation of this abomination and everyone and anyone involved in its conception, passage, financing or implementation. The destruction must be absolute, far-reaching, permanent and have such resounding consequences to the “legislators” who enacted it, the courts which affirmed it, the bureaucrats who implement it, and the think tank employees who conceived it, that no future collection of these ever again dares to dream up such a program in a country founded on the proposition of inalienable rights. I’m not sure occupants of these United States have the stomach for it. Too many prefer surrender, compromise and the yoke of tyranny to fighting the good fight.

    • Uuncle Max


    • Alan Lille

      The “American” view is not the Catholic view. This ideas of thinking is foreign to Rome.

      • Alecto

        I assure you, decent Americans don’t give a whit for that European temple of corruption.

        Rome has devolved from defender of a universal moral code to a willing accomplice in the oppression, poverty, and perversion of mankind. It lately demonstrates how little it values the condition of liberty, opting instead to worship at the trough of taxpayer largesse. Witness the silence of its “leader” in the face of something as vile as child euthanasia! It is headed by an ignoramus so unworthy of his title, he cannot understand that yes, indeed, there are things in this world worth fighting for, worth dying for, and a gubmint check ISN’T ONE OF THEM. Why would any free, moral person ever be Catholic?

        Search your heart and ask yourself whether you belong to a religion which accepts that human beings are capable of ordering their own lives in any moral way without some homosexual to tell them what to do? Whatever “moral authority” Rome once possessed, was forfeit long ago.

  • Michael Newhouse

    Following your funfair analogy, the equating of ‘day pass’ and 60 euros is misleading.
    Those are not the only options (besides giving nothing at all).
    To extend the analogy, employers have been giving a day pass to their employees. Tarot reading was not included…although people could pay for it on their own (therefore, the day pass actually excluded the Tarot reader).
    Now the government is stepping in and requiring that the day pass also include the Tarot reader…and employers are objecting to paying for such ‘coverage’. I think the objection is much more understandable when you unpack the analogy a bit.
    I agree that this is remote cooperation and therefore can be done licitly. What I worry about is the slippery slope. The trajectory obviously seems to be to get employers on board with contraception…then expand coverage to include abortion and more.
    Would you still find that licit?
    In your analogy, it would be so. I’m not sure I can follow you there.
    But I love your final two points on religious liberty and conscience protections. This is an issue that I have heard no one address, but it is at the heart of my biggest concern. You make it a more philosophical point, but my concern is more tangible.
    By wanting an ‘exception’, the bishops are essentially conceding the entire country to the unjust availability of contraception (and later abortion, et al)…and simply begging that the government will carve out a little space where the Church will be ‘left alone’. To only want justice in your little ghetto is no justice at all.
    The Church should not be arguing for an exception for itself (and thereby throwing everyone else under the bus). The Church should be courageously speaking out against the government-sponsored immorality of contraception and abortion.
    The Church needs to regain her prophetic voice of ‘speaking Truth to power.’

    • William Newton

      Dear Michael, thanks very much for a considered response to my article. As you point out if it were possible to buy a ticket that was a kind of ‘day ticket excluding tarot card readers’ then morally I ought to buy this one. However, my understanding was that there was not such an option under the HHS mandate. Hence employers were faced with closing up shop or buying a day ticket. Of course, such a ticket was available before but the HHS mandate closes this option off. No doubt this is a vicious move by the government. However, the fact remains that the employer may well be faced with either buying this ticket [insurance policy] (that may be misued by another) or closing down. So everything hangs on the type of cooperation that is going on here. I argue it is remote mediated cooperation. You accept this for contraception but not for abortion perhaps. I think the gravity of the crime being cooperated with does not change the type of cooperation. If it is remote for one then it is remote for the other. What does change is the proportion between the good sought and the evil tolerated. This is NOT proportionalism but a standard part of double effect reasoning (of which cooperation with evil is a species). But as I say, paying wages that could be used to buy an abortion is cooperation with a grave evil, but it is justified in the pursuit of a good goal (either staying in business or giving a worker a living wage) – I assume you would accept that. I argue that providing a health insurance policy to the worker as part of the remuneration is not significantly different. Do you have any thoughts on that point?

      • Michael Newhouse

        I still think the analogy fails. Giving people money or a daypass won’t encourage them to go to the Tarot Reader. But we know that free contraception will encourage and greatly increase the use of immoral contraception. So it seems that participation in the system entails culpability of some kind, however indirect.
        I’m no moral philosopher, but I’m uncomfortable with the Church resigning itself to such widespread immorality…and justifying its survival on licitness, remote or not.
        What brings together my concern over your analogy with the closing points is this: the Church shouldn’t be concerned with what she can/could/should do while still remaining licit…she should be prophetically speaking out against such widespread attacks on human wholeness.
        The first is a defensive posture…the second is pro-active.

  • Mr. William Newton, I’m so glad that you’re a European living in Europe. Please, stay there!

    • William Newton

      Thanks Paul!Rest assured I will. Any thoughts on my argument?

  • H. Albert Hubbard

    I am taken aback by the negative comments regarding Professor
    Newton’s observations. Perhaps that is because, as a Canadian, I am an “off
    shore” observer as well.

    There are two aspects to Professor Newton’s statement that “Some people in the States think
    complying with the HHS mandate is immediate cooperation and therefore is not
    permitted, but I think it is only remote material cooperation and therefore
    licit, and here is why.” The first is one of principle, namely, that remote
    cooperation is licit whereas immediate cooperation is not. The second is one of
    fact, i.e., whether buying employee
    insurance that covers a considerable array of health care services, including
    some that are regarded by the Church as immoral, is remote or immediate material
    cooperation with evil.

    Surely there can be no quarrel
    with the principle in question, which is analogous to that expressed by John Paul II in Evangelium
    Vitae who tells us, in section 73, that when “it is
    not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected
    official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well
    known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such
    a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general
    opinion and public morality”. As to the facts at issue, Professor Newton
    encourages opposition to the HHS mandate, and the question is as to what is to
    be done if that opposition fails and the mandate is imposed. Do Catholic
    institutions simply close down and cease to provide their good works because some
    of their employees may avail themselves of immoral “health services” covered by
    mandatory insurance? It seems to me that to incur, by complying with an imposed
    HHS mandate, the mere risk of an employee availing him- or
    her-self of that insurance coverage for an immoral purpose that might otherwise
    be paid for out of wages is not to cooperate immediately with an evil action. I
    find compelling Professor Newton’s characterization of such compliance as
    simply “ ‘mediate’
    cooperation because the health insurance policy covers all sorts of services
    and so the purchasing of it is not uniquely ordered to the provision of the
    immoral ones.” Those who disagree might be advised to examine closely the principle
    of double effect (or side effects, as it is sometimes referred to).

    That said, however, what Professor Newton has to say as to “what to
    do” (perhaps he might have said “what not to do”) in opposing the HHS mandate
    seems of even more import than what to do if that battle is lost. As he says,
    at bottom the issues are moral issues, not religious issues, and to fight the
    HHS mandate because it runs counter to our faith and offends the conscience of
    Catholics, rather than seek to demonstrate that it is immoral is virtually to
    concede that what is proposed is not unreasonable; and to expect non-Catholics
    to be persuaded by faith-based arguments is naïve at best—which is not to
    suggest that in matters of sexual morality western secularists are likely to be
    persuaded by reason.

    • Alecto

      Mr. Hubbard, forty years of finding ways to comply with the absolute moral evil of abortion have proved to me that any encyclical, sermon, lecture, counsel or strategy designed to help people co-exist, comply with or absolve their consciences in such matters only helps perpetuate the evil. Once people accept that there are ways to exist with these, they will likely become accustomed to them. However, they encroach on other areas of life just as divorce begets contraception begets abortion begets euthanasia. Intolerance of evil is emulation of Christ.

      If God made us possessing free will, the chief purpose of which is to seek a virtuous life, then I believe defense of that freedom at all costs is also his wish. I can only state this for myself, but I am American to my very core and like many Americans I believe in the spirit of Patrick Henry, and John Paul Jones. Some fights can never be avoided, only won. I pray God that the same virtue that energized colonies to fight a lesser moral evil will invigorate Americans to fight this very great one until we prevail.

      • slainte

        Our bishops have aligned themselves with Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, rather than Churchill’s call to “victory, however long and hard the road may be”.

        • Adam__Baum

          The basic problem is that the Bishops decided that “healthcare” is a “right”, completely ignoring the costs entailed providing that right. They took a completely utilitarian view of this when politicians promised to meet this objective through redistributive and political means.

          Unfortunately, one of those costs was providing massive coercive power to the state, which isn’t the rational, benign, incorrupt actor that grade school textbooks propose that it is.

          The Episcopacy imprudently acquiesed as the pyromaniacs offered assurances that they would control their fire, and now we burn.

          • slainte

            The Bishops, especially the Pope, are commanded by Holy Scripture to seek the Common Good of all God’s peoples. Thus, their vigorous advocacy for universal access to healhcare is informed by Revelation, not political machinations.

            37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)

            The term “Right”, improperly understood, conflates the current political initiative of socialized medicine with the demands of Holy Scripture. Holy Scripture, as interpreted by the Magisterium, requires universal access to healthcare, but it does not proscribe how healthcare is to be provided, or by whom.
            Catholic principles of Solidarity and Subsidiarity do not support the present model of federally administered medicine. Healthcare, accoring to the principles of Solidarity and Subsidiarity, is more efficiently and compassionately delivered to the sick by their local communities and faith groups.
            Prior to federal intervention in the system, healthcare was provided locally; was more easily accessible; and was reasonably priced. Bankruptcies were not, as they are now, the norm for those who became significantly ill. Many of the health providers were Catholic hospitals.
            Adam, I agree with you to the extent that Bishops should consider reevaluating any positions that diverge from Catholic social teaching and the principles of Solidarity and Subsidiarity.

            • Adam Baum

              First of all, the injunctions you cite are to individuals, you are not relieved of duties of charity by erecting massive and unworkable bureaucracies, that doesn’t relieve the authentically poor, but traps people in a cycle of poverty.

              Just as the laity is obligated to inform their conscience, if clerics are to opine on temporal matters, they should have sufficient competence to do so. They simply stammered on with meaningless catch phrases like “universal access”, accepting the premise that craven politicians who have given us a $17 trillion dollar deficit, and myriads economically dysfunctional agencies should EVEN attempt to further intervene in a complicated and intimate market like medicine.

              II’m not just looking for a re-evaluation of their position. There needs to be a mea culpa, and one that mans up a bit more than the tepid statement of Cardinal Dolan.

              • slainte

                I think big change is coming vis a vis the relationships the Church presently enjoys with the government, and these changes will, over time, benefit the Church and strengthen the faith. Don’t hold your breath for any mea culpas.
                The Bishops have a very extensive network of social justice obligations built upon a foundation of expansive government funding; it’s hard to envision how this level of service could be sustained if the funding is withdrawn. The unintended consequence of long term reliance on such public largesse, as you astutely observe, has caused not only an entitlement culture to develop among the recipients of the services, but it has also caused the Bishops to lose sight of alternative ways to fund charity initiatives. Catholic laity and local parishes have long forgotten how to serve their neighbors through personal acts of charity.
                This disconnect from actual engagement in charity may be the prime reason why parish life has lost so much of its lustre and dynamism, and why Catholics interact with each other as friendly strangers meeting for an hour every Sunday at Mass.
                Most of the present generation, and possibly even some Bishops, don’t recall how Catholic Charity functioned prior to the Church’s partnership with the government. This may explain the Bishop’s malaise on the HHS mandate and their refusal to rock the boat.
                Should the Church be forced to part ways with the government or to relinquish any of its organizations (ie, hospitals), the Bishops will need new strategies in place to meet its obligations. We shouldn’t be surprised if there is a significant outreach to laity for funding coupled with a demand for boots on the ground to provide local services. Charity will become more personal while promoting greater opportunities for fellowship within parishes, and hopefully a renewal of faith. Fewer resources will also cause a dissipation of any entitlement culture. Through personal acts of charity, Catholics may find their way back to an authentic experience of their faith.

          • Alecto

            What’s this “we burn” stuff? No, “we” don’t. Catholics do not vow to be faithful or obedient to a bishop. They’re the ones who take the vows, not us. They have no authority over matters concerning government and I don’t want them colluding with the government.

            • Adam Baum

              “What’s this “we burn” stuff? No, “we” don’t.”

              I’m not sure why you are objecting. Obamacare is the most massive and intrusive rearrangement to our system of governance since the passage of the 16th Amendment, and it will become increasingly unavoidable-creating perverse incentives, economic disorder, bureaucratic impersonalization, and arbitrary and capricious edicts. In short, we will all be forced to make moral decisions in an immoral environment.

              If we survive, in a few hundred years future Catholics will regard the current Episcopacy’s acquiescence to the administrative superstate, the way we look at the those BIshops that acquiesed to Henry in the sixteenth century, with indifference or contempt.

              • Alecto

                I do agree with all of your assessment of the law. However, I am not required to “burn” with bishops because I am not responsible for the overreach of a bishop into a temporal matter. Funny that people want so badly to put them on pedestals they’re willing to deny these bishops are culpable for the law’s passage and its consequences.

                I have a choice whether to accept or reject bishops’ pronouncements on these temporal matters. I reject this law in its entirety because, unlike the bishops, I do not acknowledge that the Congress has any authority to legislate this matter. I will not obey this law whether bishops negotiate an acceptable exemption or not.

                • Adam__Baum

                  I’m not suggesting you will “burn” with Bishops in any sense of the word but from implementation will make us all “burn” with disorder.
                  People don’t understand this is essentially a general order of denial of care. Fools see egaltarian redistribution, but when the passed the “Affordable Care Act”, they never asked “affordable to who(m)”?
                  This was pushed through by an evil government corporate axis that wanted to reduce THEIR costs, not the public’s. That’s why there’s so many top-down controls in the thing. It won’t work because it cannot work. It’s a pandora’s box-and among the effects will be shortages, rationing and the like and no matter how you remain resolute in opposition-the quality of care and your liberty will diminish.

                  • Alecto

                    I unequivocally agree with your post, but underlying it is the assumption that Congress possesses legislative authority over healthcare. It doesn’t. Justice Scalia reiterated in the Windsor dissent that government can’t simply appropriate jurisdiction over things to itself. There must be some lawful mechanism authorizing it. The law is void because as approved by the Court as a bill to raise revenue, it did not originate in the House (U.S. Const., Article I, Section 7).

                    If we simply accept that this government has authority over every aspect of our lives, as we are told by Catholic bishops, we’re no better than slaves. This law deprives us of decision-making authority over our most fundamental need as human beings: healthcare. What else is there to decide if government controls your life and death?

                    This law has focused a Constitutional crisis with pixelated clarity and it could not be more urgent or compelling. It cannot stand, not because we can’t afford it, but because it is an affront to a free society.

      • William Newton

        Dear Alecto,
        What you are saying is that there can be reasons to not cooperate with evil even when normally it could be justified – I agree with that. E.g. even if the cooperation were only remote (as I argue it is in this case) one might decide not to cooperate because of the scandal it causes or because it would lead to the cooperator losing his moral sensitivity to some evil.

        However, these additional aspects do not seem to me to apply in the case of the HHS Mandate. Having heroically resisted the law as far as possible in the courts, no one will be doubt about the US Catholic’s position on contraception/abortion. Moreover, if an employer buys such a policy I do not see that this will usually make him or her less opposed to these evils.

        • Alecto

          Mr. Newton, had the bishops not first lobbied for the legislation, one might be able to argue with a straight face, they “heroically” resisted. However, can one argue they resisted something they initially worked diligently to enact? After all, their objection is not to the basic proposition that government has the authority to impose this on us, and by doing so make a slaves of us, only to the HHS mandate. The mandate is a moot point: the Supreme Court will ultimately find in their favor based on precedent and grant them the remedy they seek.

          An exemption neither erases the broad philosophical objection to the law, nor does it erase the bishops’ culpability in its passage. Americans see them for the conspiring traitors they are.

          • slainte

            Any exemption from the HHS mandate upheld by the U.S Supreme Court will likely be a very narrow one, ie., applicable only to the Church itself, but not necessarily to its missional institutions (hospitals, charities, universities etc.).
            Should the Church choose to cooperate with evil, even remotely, by continuing its association with non-exempt institutions, it will lose much of its credibility and moral authority among the laity and other faiths. The message to the laity would be….the Church preaches one thing, but practices another. Go along to get along.
            it would be better for the Church to divest from the institutions than to compromise its moral and ethical foundations. Social justice initiatives can be delivered more effectively and personally from local parishes where neighbor serves neighbor.

            • Alecto

              Past actions of the bishops doesn’t fill me with confidence in their loyalty to Church doctrine as it does you, slainte. I believe they will justify compliance and find some way to continue riding the gravy train to oblivion seeing some “greater good” in delivering healthcare. That will lead to a direct, irreconcilable split between faithful Catholics and social justice Catholics. It’s been a long time coming, but inevitable since the fractures begun under Vatican II.

              • slainte

                The flourishing of the Latin Mass among the laity and the exponential growth of traditionalist orders of priests and sisters coupled with the betrayal of the liberal state should collectively wake them up. We live in interesting times…times that require even Bishops to pull their heads out of the sand.
                I believe in the fundamental integrity and the fullness of our faith, Alecto, not always in the fallible persons that run it. I trust in God and know that He will put the Bishops on the right path, eventually, and through the intervention of Saint Michael the Archangel attend to those forces who would undermine the Church’s mission.

                • Alecto

                  Rather than trust in God, we have to ask, “Does he entrust this matter to us?” I think that answer must be “yes” because we are here, living now and there isn’t anybody else. And, if he does, what are the limits of our opposition?

                  • slainte

                    God helps those who help themselves….agreed.
                    I, like you, will stand in defense of my faith because it is grounded in Truth, and I will call out bishops, when appropriate, but always with respect because of He whom they serve.

    • Adam__Baum

      I agree with this “expect non-Catholics to be persuaded by faith-based arguments is naïve at best”, except that appllies to Catholics as well.

      I don’t “just” object to the HHS mandate, but to the entire project of Obamacare. Too many people with too understanding of economics and a ridiculously naive view of government (including many with mitres) believe that government is a an efficient, effective and benign economic agent, instead of the cesspool of irrationality, waste, fraud and corruption. It’s an affront to human dignity.

      • Alecto

        It’s an affront to human dignity.

        And human imagination, problem-solving, intelligence, endeavor and maybe humanity itself?

        • Adam__Baum


    • William Newton

      Dear Prof. Hubbard,

      Thanks for your support on this.

      As you point out, the analysis on of cooperation with evil has a long pedigree in the Church. On this point I am not doing anything but articulate the tradition. Undoubtedly there are slightly different approaches, but the one I follow is certainly mainstream.

      A more detailed description of my understanding on cooperation with evil can be found at:

      That some forms of cooperation with evil are permitted is universally held. Hence, as you imply, if there is a problem with my argument it is that the HHS mandate is not a case of remote cooperation. I have tried to show why I think it is a case of remote cooperation and, of course, I take heart that you agree with me!

      • slainte

        Professor Newton, I believe that the posters in this forum do not take issue with the integrity of your analysis. You have written well and eloquently on the subject of remote and material cooperation with evil.
        I think, though, that what you may not fully grasp is the American zeitgest which Alecto described vwey well in an earlier post.
        Americans are liberty seeking rebels at heart, even those of us who are Catholic. Our sensibilities have been melded by a revolution that birthed our nation and our spirit. That revolutionary spirit is still very much alive. We are not appeasers; we are fighters. Our formation and outlook is different from that of our Canadian neighbors to the north, still subjects of a foreign monarch.
        Any cooperation with evil, remote or otherwise, is repugnant to those of us who are Catholics because it is a form of capitulation to the unconscionable; an imposition of an evil authority from which we seek liberation, not cooperation. To our great shame, we have capitulated on the issue of abortion only to realize that 58 million of our fellow Americans have been slaughtered in the womb since 1973, while the rest of us have remained silent.
        To further cooperate with those who would expand this effort by forcing us to comply is reprehensible. The fact that it is an effort squarely aimed against our Church in violation of our Constitution’s First Amendment, (the Right to Freedom of Religion and Conscience), is equally outrageous and repugnant.
        The resistance you encounter here is not personal nor a reflection on your academic excellence. It merely reflects the rustling sounds of an American revolutionary spirit reawakening after a long period of malaise.

        • William Newton

          Dear Slainte,

          I very much appreciate the independent and freedom loving spirit of Americans: I have worked for many years among Americans. Also, just of the record, I am not upset or smarting about the revolution – I happily attend the 4th July parities I am invited to. Nor am I overly concerned about my academic prestige. I was thinking more of the Catholic employer who come 1 Jan 2014 will have four choices: close up shop, pay the fines, not pay the fines and go to prison, or comply. I have agreed that heroic resistance – which would imply perhaps the prison option or the giving up of one’s livelihood – is laudable, but I do not think it is mandatory for all employers. You suggest a fifth option which is launching a second revolution (in order to prevent ending up just like the country the first revolution revolted from!). I wonder if this is reasonable. In order to do so legitimately there must be a reasonable chance of success (according to the just war theory). I think the possibility of overthrowing the current monarch (the president) is minimal.

          I also agree that all remote cooperation is repugnant but the reality is that you and I are doing it all the time. We are doing it now. In order to use the internet I pay an ISP who is helped thereby to provide internet access for those who use the internet to view pornography. So even this discussion we are having about remote cooperation with evil involves some form of remote cooperation. Should this fact stop you from responding to my response (because you have decided to discontinue the contract you have with your ISP)? Perhaps, but not necessarily.

          Of course,we pray the legal challenge works out.

          God bless

          • slainte

            Dr. Newton,
            Gandhi was a revolutionary, and freed his country from the grip of an empire through passive disobedience. He did not fire a shot.
            The person Jesus Christ was also a revolutionary who, to my knowledge, never cooperated with evil either remotely or materially. Nor did he fire a shot when He rescued humanity from the slavery of sin and the wages of death.
            Mother Teresa was a revolutionary and the model for true Catholic feminism. She met evil with radical acts of kindness and defined poverty not as material deprivation, but as separation from God. No guns or bullets were needed to show the world how the manifest injustice of a ruling hegemony permitted many to starve.
            I have faith that when average men and women direct their thoughts and actions toward God’s ways, our societies will follow the same path. Revolutions are the stuff of average folk cooperating with God’s ways by choosing morality and virtue and insisting that their governments do the same.
            You are correct, though, that there is a price to pay and it may mean that moral and virtuous people will have to change livelihoods, and that the Chuch will divest itself of its material holdings. It may have to become the Poor Church that Pope Francis wishes existed, and that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI predicted would occur.
            Pax tecum.

      • Gary

        Professor Newton,
        Would we even be having this discussion if the health plan mandated free euthanizing of inconvenient children up until the age of two or the age of reason? How does this differ from the mandated chemical abortions provided under Obamacare?

  • Ralphster

    Hard to know what to say in the face of William Newton’s whopper about liberty of conscience applying to so-called indifferent mattters. Since when is God’s truth, the one true faith, and our eternal salvation a matter of indifferentism and/or liberty of conscience? The Catholic tradition of the ages certainly taught otherwise. Pope Pius IX taught that this was an insanity. Amazing how so many Catholic thinkers are desperate to purge the Social Reign of Christ from our memory.

    • William Newton

      Dear Ralphster – Perhaps we are not using the term <> quite the same.
      I meant – things that cannot be proved by reason alone. I did not mean: matters of little importance.

  • Vivianne

    I beg to differ with you in the matter of “Abortion, contraception, and sterilization are no more a religious issues than are murder, rape, and incest.” They most certainly offend our religious sensitivities, but they offend our ability to reason as well. Abortion is clearly against the fifth commandment! Contraception can also kill, and sterilization contradicts a function endowed in us by the Creator Himself! How can you say they are not religious issues?

    • William Newton

      Dear Vivianne – I was merely trying to say that they are not MERELY religious issues. Compare abortion with which day is the Holy Day. The later question cannot be solved by reason and so it is a specifically religious issue. Abortion is wrong according to both reason and revelation and so we have two reasons to hold it is wrong: this is why religious people oppose it more often than secular people: they have two reasons to oppose it. However, the arguments against abortion and contracetpion need not rely on revelation. There is a danger that the way we oppose the HHS mandate gives credence to those who say abortion/contraception is ONLY a religious issue.

  • Joanne

    Let us not mince words: There is a deadline approaching, and Catholic employers must choose whether to comply with this mandate and seek a third-party insurer (who may pay for contraception and abortion), or shut their doors. We are faced with a choice, and full knowledge of that choice is necessary. We are called to work for the good but also to live in the present moment. These difficult decisions are the unfortunate reality of living in an imperfect world full of imperfect people. I am reminded of Thomas Paine’s famous quote: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” The Fortnight for Freedom campaign being promoted by the American bishops (of which I approve wholeheartedly, and am a participant) has been a good rallying point for American Catholics. Upon further reflection, however, I believe that the real moral issues at stake (contraception, abortion, sterilization) have unfortunately fallen into the background. This is largely due to the secular media, but also due to the manner in which the argument against the HHS mandate is being mounted. From a legal standpoint, it has been argued that it is an infringement upon freedom of religion (…it is against our faith to use contraception, therefore we should not be forced to provide it…). It is not clear that this argument will hold up in court. You are so good to point out that contraception, abortion, and sterilization are not strictly “religious” issues, but can be faced in the light of human reason. I am no scholar, but your argument appears sound to me. You make it very clear that Catholic employers in no way obliged to cooperate with the mandate, but that cooperation itself may not be unjustifiable cooperation with evil. Thank you for this perspective.

    • William Newton

      Dear Joanne,
      Thank you for this.
      I think you have summarized well my motivation for writing this piece. I am utterly opposed to contraception (let alone abortion) and have written on this. If you or others are interested to see what I have written about this then search for me on academia.edu

      But as you state, there are good Catholic employers who may have to make a life defining decision on this issue in the near future. I think my reasoning is sound and so I think it is fair to air it for comment. Sometimes we ARE called to heroic actions. I argue that employers can comply not that they must.

  • Gary

    Mr. Newton, your argument stands on the assumption that businesses have two choices: purchase morally objectionable coverage or close doors. This is not the case. If a business employs less than 50 there is no mandate to provide coverage. Employers of over 50 are not obliged to provide coverage but will be forced to pay a fine (or, per our creative, “Catholic” Supreme Court Chief Roberts, a “tax”) of $2000 per year per employee. The ruinous fines are those imposed if an employer provides coverage without the offending coverage ($36,500 per year per employee). Since your assumption – provide evil coverage or close your business – is wrong, is not your argument also wrong? Two other points 1. There are moral alternatives – Medi Share and Samaritan Ministries, as I mentioned earlier. 2. The pill operates as an abortifacient as a backup to its primary function as a contraceptive and the Plan B pill is more specifically abortive in nature. So, Obamacare is already mandating abortion.

    • Alecto

      Look past the application of the law as written today and imagine the unintended consequences ten, twenty or fifty years hence if it is fully implemented. There are objectionable elements in it now (death panels, mandated coverage, etc…). Review the legislative record for the income tax, New Deal and Great Society welfare programs as enacted. Congress has amended, and courts have steadily expanded the scope of each of these as they no doubt will with the ACA. It is unacceptable. Period!

  • Michael Susce

    We cant use freedom of conscience, we cant use freedom of religion, but we are to appeal to reason? This argument is the same that was promoted throughout the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Reason alone resulted in the unholy trinity of Stalin, Hitler and Mao. No thanks. Without religious sensibilities, moral reasoning nonsense. As Chesterton said, a madman is not a person who lost his reason, a madman is one who all he has left is his reason. Jesus Christ is God, but we should not use Him as a foundation and justification for our moral and political reason? That is unreasonable.
    God Bless
    oh by the way; it’s ok to purchase health insurance that facilitates the killing of innocents. we are just following orders (of our superiors)…..Where have I heard this before….hmm?

  • Ford Oxaal

    Your logic, true though it may be, is perceived as providing cover for
    complicity with an insidious, creeping evil at a time when many feel the
    Catholic Church in America needs to try with all its might to get its
    mojo back. There is a yearning for a St. Joan of Arc to ride in and
    lead the charge. The irony is that the truth you expound is itself
    useful, as all truth is, in the fight. We all need to understand how to
    navigate around and breathe within the weeds which will grow up with
    the wheat until the end of time. The subject you raise is very
    important for our times. For example, do my wife and I pack it in and
    move to Mississippi because New York is the abortion state? Maybe. But
    that decision needs to be made in light of Church teaching, and your article sheds light on that teaching. Maybe God
    wants my family to fight it out right here, right now, without as much
    help as we would like from our diocese. Maybe that future St. Joan of Arc will be one of our progeny, pressed into heroic action by the fact that we did not move to Mississippi, but stayed in New York, and prayed over time, over generations even, for its coming to its senses.

    • musicacre

      “Bloom where you’re planted,” an American friend once said to me. ( Actually she’s Canadian now.)

      • Ford Oxaal

        Great expression, and ha ha — that’s funny — well I hope she bloomed in Canada 🙂 I have to say, the family made an impromptu trip to Ottawa a couple of summers ago, and we had so much fun we laughed about moving there. Alas the grass is always greener…

        • musicacre

          I’ve always been Canadian, being planted here by grandparents from France and Ireland. One was “remotely” Dutch, but from Russia. The friend continues to bloom; she is every school board’s nightmare; she calls them to account and is an active pro-lifer!

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  • Professor Newton, I agree that there is only a remote material cooperation in the context you described. But that context assumes a set of circumstances that may represent a common misunderstanding of the law.

    The contraceptive mandate refers to health insurance policy requirements only. Because the Affordable Care Act levies at tax to subsidize the health insurance exchanges, which can be avoided by providing health insurance in lieu thereof, no employer is mandated to provide health insurance, in general, or contraceptive coverage, in particular. The SCOTUS ruled that the “penalties” and “fines” are, rather, a tax and the individual mandate was thus upheld. The employer mandate was more straightforward in that regard as the ACA expressly stated that the penalty was a tax.

    Any material cooperation mandated by the government is therefore even more remote, similar to having one’s income taxes funding an unjust war, for example. I agree that no employer is morally complicit by the mere act of providing health insurance. For those who suffer scruples, they can avail themselves of an even remoter material cooperation by paying the tax rather than providing the coverage.

    Finally, it is not helpful, in my view, for anyone to employ tortured definitions of proximate vs remote material cooperation, double effect and other concepts of moral act analysis to advance such causes because it diminishes their effectiveness in other cases, making other analyses subject to parody and reductio ad absurdum. It is especially dangerous to invoke religious exemptions for what are essentially moral realities, which are transparent to human reason without the benefit of special revelation, because it actually weakens the case in the public square.

    Good analysis. It may, on the surface, disappoint some because it doesn’t advance a legal or political aim but it better serves the common good, in the long run, not to trivialize important principles, not to dilute concepts with tortuous ambiguities, not to sacrifice philosophical rigor, out of ideological expedience.

  • m8lsem

    Golly, tell me, whatever evil is there in: having to buy insurance that does not cover the bad stuff, telling the insurer you won’t buy or pay for the bad stuff, knowing that the insurer will otherwise cover the bad stuff, which bad stuff will only have reality if an independent third person, the employee, elects to buy the bad stuff with the insurance rather than with the equally immoral paycheck?

  • m8lsem

    As for those employers who do not have the option of telling the insurer they do not want to cover the bad stuff, the fact remains there is nothing the employee can do with the insurance that the employee cannot do with the paycheck, thus the insurance is only the moral equivalent of a raise in pay of like amount as ‘evil’ benefits paid.

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