Government, Religious Liberty, and Women’s Health

There is an excellent article posted today on Public Discourse by Helen Alvare addressing the issues of government, religious liberty, and women’s health. Here are some of the highlights.

On the issue of the administration’s campaign targeting women:

The result is an administration—led by men, but fronted by women—blatantly in favor of the view that to be “for women” (and to be super cool), you should support casual sex and the free contraception that facilitates it. The Obama campaign’s real message about the HHS mandate translates as follows: If you object to coercing religious institutions into sponsoring free contraception, you are no friend to women.

On the threat to religious liberty:

Any American citizen or institution that visibly opposes this powerful alliance might realistically worry about its future. This is new for Christians in America. In decades past, only the most extremist abortion interest groups—e.g., Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League—visibly denounced the beliefs and practices of Christian churches regarding human sexuality, marriage, and family. But today, these groups command the prime-time podium at the Democratic National Convention, and count the president of the United States as their closest political ally.

On the challenge for Christians:

Instead, for the good of women and the good of society, Christians must engage in a hard conversation: what does women’s freedom truly include? Christian citizens, Catholics in particular, must explain why their witness on contraception contributes to, and doesn’t derogate, women’s long-term flourishing. These conversations must certainly deal with the world as it is—culturally, politically—but can never forget to speak of the world as it ought to be, the world parents hope to leave to their daughters and sons.

Christian churches need to be frank about what they are proposing concerning sex, parenting, and marriage. They shouldn’t hide the ball; that rightly infuriates people. And they should especially remember those people who often slip through the cracks, who are forgotten or ignored by the alliance of Planned Parenthood and the federal government: our poorest and least educated fellow citizens who suffer the most from the loss of a healthy marriage culture.

I’d like to encourage you to read the entire article. It appears that it will also include two more follow-up pieces in the days to come. You can find the article here.


Helen Alvare, “Planned Parenthood and the Government v. Religious Liberty and Women’s Wellbeing,” Public Discourse, December 4, 2012.

The Inconsistent Logic of Abortion Rights Advocates

During last week’s debate between Vice President Joe Biden and GOP Vice President nominee Paul Ryan, the moderator asked a very interesting question. Basing her question on the fact that both Biden and Ryan are Catholic, Martha Raddatz asked the candidates to explain how their faith impacts their politics, especially related to the issue of abortion. The answers were perhaps surprisingly similar in their foundation but vastly different in their application.

Congressman Ryan stated that he believed life begins at conception, which is in keeping with Catholic doctrine. He declared that he cannot separate his faith from his politics on the issue of abortion. Therefore, Ryan concluded that the policies of a Romney-Ryan administration would oppose abortion except in cases of rape and incest. It should be noted, however, that Ryan had stated previously his personal beliefs even oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest.

Vice President Biden offered a very similar response regarding the beginning of life. He acknowledged agreement that life begins at conception as a de fide doctrine of the Catholic Church. However, he went on to declare that he cannot force his morality on someone else and that a woman has the right to do as she wishes with her own body.

I doubt many people were shocked by the answers that Biden and Ryan offered. Some may have been surprised that Vice President Biden believes life begins at conception, and others may have been intrigued that Ryan did not espouse his personal views on abortion in cases of rape and incest. However, the general tenor of the answers held to firmly established party platforms for each candidate.

In the midst of this debate, I find it interesting that little evaluation has been offered of the inconsistency of Mr. Biden’s argument. There are two key elements of his answer that contradict many of his other political goals—absolute autonomy and the refusal to impose his own morality.

The argument for autonomy is common in the abortion debate. It generally takes the following form. A woman has the right to do with her body as she pleases. Her right to privacy and free choice trumps any other right. No one can tell her what she can and cannot do. Thus, a woman should have the right to have an abortion for any reason. This is the effect of the collective Supreme Court rulings of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton in 1973.

There is logical and political inconsistency in this position, however, for Mr. Biden. This argument is libertarian in nature and begs the question of complete autonomy in every aspect of life. For example, Mr. Biden (and pro-choice advocates in general) desire to see abortion on demand with no questions asked of the woman involved. She should be completely free to choose abortion for herself. Yet, there are a number of “choices” limited by government restrictions that contradict the logic of this argument. In most states, a young woman under the age of 18 cannot get a tattoo. Even if she has parental consent, states like California, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington make the tattooing of a minor a crime. In these states, parental consent cannot even trump the law to allow a minor to receive a tattoo.

By contrast, New York City is piloting a program in 13 of their public schools to make Plan B, the “morning-after pill,” available to young women without parental consent. Therefore, a fifteen-year-old girl cannot get a tattoo, but she can get an abortion-inducing drug. I ask the question, is she completely autonomous? Is the government telling her that she cannot do with her body as she chooses? Why does it apply to tattoos but not abortion?

This libertarian argument can be extended to several other areas that are restricted or outlawed by the government. You cannot buy a non-diet soda larger than 16 ounces in New York City. A host of drugs are illegal, not only to buy or sell but even to possess. Marriage laws forbid a person from marrying his/her siblings and first cousins. Government even restricts the number of people one can marry. In each of these cases, government has said that you are not free to do with your body as you wish. If Mr. Biden and other abortion rights advocates want to be consistent, they must disavow laws like these as well. However, I imagine that government officials could make a reasonable case for such laws to be on the books. Thus, their inconsistency is exposed.

The other part of Mr. Biden’s response relates to the idea that he is unwilling to impose his morality on someone else. This is egregiously inconsistent for anyone involved in government. The role of laws established by government is the imposition of morality on others. Laws that prohibit murder, theft, fraud, and slander impose someone’s morality on the rest of society. In fact all laws impose morality. For the argument of abortion rights advocates to be consistent, one has to accept moral anarchy. Everyone should be able to do what is right in his own eyes.

Abortion rights advocates claim that they do not want morality imposed on them, but they are willing accept the imposition of their own morality on others. The recent birth control mandate added to the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) imposes abortion rights morality on everyone by requiring that insurance companies supply birth control to all individuals covered at no charge to the patient. This mandate includes abortion-inducing drugs, such as Plan B and Ella. If abortion rights advocates are so opposed to the imposition of morality on others, they should oppose this mandate as well.

As seen in the examples above, the logic of abortion rights advocates in inconsistent. Without even considering the merit of their arguments, one can see that they are unable to apply their logic universally.


Kiran Khalid and Greg Botelho, “New York program allowing teens to get Plan B pill draws critics, defenders,” CNN, September 25, 2012.

The Feminist Idea of Reproductive Justice

I have already written a few pieces about the Health and Human Services mandate requiring contraceptives and birth control to be dispensed at no charge as part of group insurance plans. I have made theological and political arguments about the issue here. In a piece published this past weekend on The Public Discourse, Mary Rose Somarriba develops a natural law argument against the mandate and exposes the feminist idea of reproductive justice. Here are a few highlights:

For supporters of the recent HHS mandate that forces religious institutions to buy insurance that makes these items free to their employees and students, the cause served is “reproductive justice.” It was as past president of Law Students for Reproductive Justice that Sandra Fluke testified to Congress—as a victim of injustice who, along with her female peers at Georgetown, suffers from not having contraception paid for her in full.

But what is “reproductive justice”? To help answer that question, perhaps we should first ask: Who is guilty of the injustice? For Fluke, it’s her school that “creates untenable burdens that impede our academic success.” But of course it’s unfair to say that an institution, by not covering the cost of some product, implicitly creates burdens for its female students. My employer, by not covering my preferred allergy medicine, doesn’t create my burden of allergies. My allergy problems are internal to myself. They are, so to speak, natural problems I live with, ones I cannot label as someone else’s fault. Unless I were futilely to blame, say, God or nature.

Even though it seems ridiculous to blame nature for this “injustice,” Somarriba argues that blaming nature is exactly what feminists are doing with their arguments for reproductive justice and reproductive freedom. She continues:

But I would argue that underneath it all, advocates of “reproductive justice” do blame nature. Nature is the true obstacle to these women’s idea of justice.

Fluke might not put it this way, but radical feminists who cling to terms like “reproductive justice” and “reproductive freedom” are really trying to beat the cards that nature dealt them. They want sexual license outside the scope of what nature provides as the healthiest course—sex with one person for a lifetime. They object to the reality that sex can naturally lead to babies, creating burdens that research shows they’d be best suited to bear with the help of a husband. Underneath sexual liberationists’ wish to overthrow patriarchal traditions of marriage and religious institutions’ principles of sexual ethics, there seems to be a wish to overthrow the most stubborn foundation of all—nature herself.

The conclusion of the article is that reproductive justice and reproductive freedom are manufactured “rights” that have no grounding in nature nor the Constitution. Somarriba writes:

So, getting back to our original question: What is “true reproductive freedom”? If it means absolute sexual license without consequences such as pregnancy and children, then it has the unfortunate attribute of never before existing in history. It’s not a freedom that women have ever fully exercised; it isn’t one that was possessed by women at some time but was taken from them and thus needs to be safeguarded from violators.

Nevertheless, terms like “reproductive freedom” and “reproductive justice” are the rallying cries of such advocates. For Hoffman and her comrades, unwanted pregnancy is an unjust imposition on women who are sexually active. Technology such as contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization have nearly evened the scales of reproductive justice—even if not completely; as long as women have had to pay for these things, they’re still being treated unjustly.

The article is an interesting read and worth your time.


Mary Rose Somarriba, “The Battle Against Nature’s Sexism,” The Public Discourse, April 20, 2012.

For my other articles on the so-called “contraceptive mandate,” visit

Can an Unjust Law Be a Law at All?: The Contraceptive Mandate

I have previously written about the Health and Human Services guideline to the Affordable Care Act (aka, ObamaCare) that will require religious institutions to provide all FDA-approved contraceptives to their employees at no charge through their group health insurance plans. I believe that such a mandate violates religious liberty and freedom of conscience that is guaranteed protection under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Today the United States Senate voted to table the Blunt Amendment which would have protected those who object to this new insurance mandate. The vote was predictably along party lines with all but one Republican favoring the amendment and all but three Democrats opposing the amendment.

As this new mandate proceeds to take the form of law, we need to ask the questions:

Is this law unjust?

Can an unjust law be a law at all?

In relation to the justice of this law, I have previously argued that it violates the freedom of religion granted by the First Amendment. In addition, I believe this law is unjust because it violates God’s eternal law of protection of innocent life. We see in Genesis 1:27 that human beings are created in the image of God. Thus, the inherent value of humans begins at conception. Any attempt to end life after conception (e.g., Plan B, Ella, abortion, etc.) is a violation of the eternal law of God.

Thomas Aquinas gives us a good historical perspective from which to evaluate the justice of human law. Aquinas writes:

Laws framed by man are either just or unjust. If they be just, they have the power of binding in conscience, from the eternal law whence they are derived. . . . On the other hand laws may be unjust in two ways: first, by being contrary to human good . . . either in respect of the end . . . ; or in respect to the author, as when a man makes a law that goes beyond the power committed to him;—or in respect of the form, as when burdens are imposed unequally on the community, although with a view to the common good. . . . Secondly, laws may be unjust through being opposed to the Divine good: such are the laws of tyrants inducing idolatry, or to anything contrary to the Divine law: and laws of this kind must nowise be observed, because, as stated in Acts 5:29, we ought to obey God rather than men.

If we look at this mandate through a Thomistic lens, the contraception requirement is unjust on both levels. It is contrary to the human good because it goes beyond the power granted to the federal government and imposes an unequal burden on society. The Constitution does not grant the federal government the power to require purchase of health insurance nor to tell health insurance plans what must be offered and for how much money. Those with religious convictions against such birth control are burdened with violating their consciences. If no such mandate existed, those with no religious conviction against contraception could buy it on the open market. Those with convictions against it would not be unduly burdened.

Second, this mandate is opposed to the divine good because it violates the law of God to protect innocent human life. In Psalm 139:13–16, we read that God forms children in the womb, and He has planned our days before we are ever born. God is intimately involved in the creation of life from the very moment of conception. God values human life and calls upon us to protect it (Exodus 20:13).

That leads to the second question: Can an unjust law be a law at all? Turning to Aquinas again, he answers with a resounding “No!” Speaking of unjust laws, Aquinas writes, “The like are acts of violence rather than laws; because, as Augustine says, a law that is not just, seems to be no law at all.”

Believing this new mandate to be unjust and opposed to both the common good and divine good, I applaud Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and his colleagues for attempting to protect religious liberty. Those 51 senators who voted to table the amendment, effectively killing it, should recognize they have violated the sacred trust of their office to govern justly for the American people. We should strive for just laws enacted by our government and condemn unjust laws that are in fact no law at all.


Tom Cohen and Dan Merica, “Senate kills controversial ‘conscience’ amendment,” CNN, March 1, 2012.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I–II.96.4.

My previous articles on this issue include: ObamaCare and the First Amendment and To Mr. Obama, From a Conscientious Objector.

To Mr. Obama, From a Conscientious Objector

Dear Mr. President:

In recent weeks, a decision by your Administration has stirred great controversy among people of faith regarding the requirement that insurance policies offer free access to all FDA-approved contraceptives and sterilization. On the basis of the freedom of religion guaranteed to me as a citizen of the United States of America in the First Amendment of the Constitution, I want to state my conscientious objection to this policy.

First, the requirement of insurance policies to offer contraceptives to all people at no charge violates my religiously-held belief that life begins at conception. Among these contraceptives are drugs known to cause the elimination of a fetus after conception by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall. Such drugs (e.g., Plan B, Ella) are more properly called birth control because contraceptives, strictly defined, prevent conception. These drugs act to prevent birth after conception. On the grounds of teaching in the Bible, I believe that all life begins at conception. In Psalm 139:13–16, we read that God forms children in the womb, and He has planned our days before we are ever born. God is intimately involved in the creation of life from the very moment of conception. In addition, Genesis 1:27 tells us that all humans are created in the image of God. The inherent value of God’s image begins at the moment human life begins—at conception.

Second, the requirement of insurance policies to offer contraceptives to all people at no charge makes me complicit in funding these abortifacient drugs. While you have offered exemptions to churches, I work at a religious school. It is debatable whether my school will meet the exemption standard. However, it is clear that the insurance program my school uses will be forced to comply. In the insurance business, it is an elementary principle that costs are passed along to the consumer through higher premiums. Even if the insurance companies have to “pay out of pocket” for those contraceptives (according to last week’s “compromise”), the burden will merely shift to the individual consumer—making us all complicit. This too violates my conscience and freedom of religion.

Third, the requirement of insurance policies to offer contraceptives to all people at no charge extends beyond the constitutional authority of the federal government. Insurance companies are businesses that are not owned by the federal government. Government has no constitutional authority to require business to offer a service at their own expense. In addition, the mandate of the Affordable Care Act that requires all individuals to have insurance extends beyond the constitutional authority of the federal government. In order to live and breathe in America, the government is attempting to force citizens to buy insurance. This is a gross abuse of power on the part of the federal government.

I humbly request that you rescind the current contraception regulation proposed by Secretary Sebelius and rescind the insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act. These actions are a violation of your constitutional authority, and the contraceptive mandate is a violation of my guaranteed right to freedom of religion. I would like to remind you that the Bill of Rights was written “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of [the federal government’s] powers” (Preamble to the Bill of Rights). The current mandates are both a misconstruction and abuse of powers. The First Amendment trumps these mandates.

Please know that even today I have prayed for you and your Administration as instructed in 1 Timothy 2:1–2, which reads, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” I pray for wisdom on your behalf to protect the consciences of the citizens over whom you have authority and to respect the teachings of Scripture which you claim to believe.


Evan Lenow
Conscientious Objector