6 February 2012
The air has been thick with euphemisms since the Obama administration recently announced it would force Catholic-run institutions serving the general public—including colleges and universities—to provide free contraceptives to their employees through their health plans.
If he has access to The New York Times in the hereafter, George Orwell must be turning over in his grave.
What do I mean? What are the euphemisms I have in mind?
It has gotten to the point in this country that merely calling something by its right name makes one a “right-wing nut.” But I’m going to risk it.
First, however, let’s hear what the secular-liberal establishment has to say about the Health and Human Services decision.
In a front-page, above-the-fold report on the decision, entitled “Ruling on Contraception Draws Battle Lines at Catholic Colleges” (Jan. 30), The New York Times frames the story this way:
. . . scientific thinking on the medical benefits of birth control has clashed with deeply held religious and cultural beliefs.
The Obama administration relied on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine, an independent group of doctors and researchers that concluded that birth control is not just a convenience but is medically necessary “to ensure women’s health and well-being.”
In a sidebar, the reporter summarizes the issues again in these terms:
When the Obama administration wanted a list of preventive services that women needed to stay healthy and that should be insured with no co-pay, it commissioned a report by the Institute of Medicine . . . Increased access to contraception made the list.
According the NYT reporter, the Institute’s report made four basic points:
- Unintended pregnancy leads to abortion.
- Unintended pregnancy can cause depression.
- Pregnancy is more dangerous than taking birth-control pills.
- Birth-control pills have other medical uses, besides preventing pregnancy.
In the same issue of the paper, in an editorial entitled “Birth Control and Reproductive Rights,” the NYT opined as follows:
It was good news that the Obama administration withstood pressure from Roman Catholic bishops and social conservatives to deny contraceptive coverage for millions of American women who work for religiously affiliated employers.
. . .
The administration’s commitment to affordable birth control is welcome at a moment when women’s access to reproductive health care, including contraceptives, cancer screenings and abortion services, is under assault in the coursts, state legislatures and Congress, as well as on the Republican campaign trail.
Earlier this month, for example, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit lifted a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of a new Texas law requiring doctors to show women seeking an abortion a sonogram. It forces doctors to describe the image and play the sound of the fetal heartbeat, despite a woman’s wishes or a doctor’s ethical objections.
. . .
Texas’s more intrusive requirement is wholly unnecessary for informed consent and is intended to dissuade women from having the procedure.
Finally, my favorite example of the secular-liberal mind-set comes in a letter to the editor published in today’s paper, in response to the report cited above. The author, a student in the Health Law Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, reasons as follows:
Catholic health institutions want to avoid prescribing birth control. They frame it as an infringement of their faith. But this isn’t an issue of regulating religion, but rather of general health care.
Medical workers provide services essential to the public. their critical role requires regulation. People put trust in their doctors, and that trust shouldn’t be abused. If I go to the doctor, I expect the best possible medical advice. A sexually active person requires access to birth control. Unexpected pregnancy can have complications for both mothers and their children.
The law doesn’t require anyone to take birth control. It only comples doctors to prescribe it to those who ask.
That pretty well sums up the secular-liberal view on this matter.
Where are the euphemisms I mentioned at the beginning, that I claim must have poor George Orwell spinning in his grave? A better question would be: Where to start?
Let’s begin with the phrase “reproductive rights.”
First, it should be pointed out that there is no right to healthcare of any sort in this country. So, may I say—at the risk of offending some of my conservative confrères—this makes it a little hard for me to swallow a supposed “right” to free birth-conrol pills, Viagra, and other life-style enhancements, when the uninsured have no right to affordable medical care of any sort. But that is a topic for another column, so let it pass.
Next, let’s look at what the law-school student says: “The law doesn’t require anyone to take birth control. It only compels doctors to prescribe it to those who ask.”
A pretty argument! According to this reasoning, I am within my “rights” to demand that my doctor give me a prescription for OxyContin, just so long as I don’t insist that he take the pills himself.
If such confusion deserves to be dignified by logical analysis, the student is begging the question. The question is not whether anyone should be forced to receive any medical service; it is precisely whether anyone should be forced against his will and better judgment to provide some medical service. The student is claiming that the issue is not properly one of religious freedom, but one of the duties proper to doctors. Therefore, it is up to him to explain why doctors have a duty to provide birth-control pills; he may not simply assume that they do.
His only positive argument in support of his claim seems to be: “A sexually active person requires access to birth control.”
It might be nice for them if such a service existed. It might be thoughtful of the government to provide them with such a service. But on what understanding of the word “require” can a drunk be said to “require” a free taxi? Whatever it is, it is the same sense in which a “sexually active” person may be said to “require” access to birth control.
It is surely not a logical requirement. Being “sexually active” does not logically entail access to birth control.
It is hard to see how it is a moral requirement, as the drunks-and-taxis analogy clearly shows. And, in any event, if that is the intended meaning, then once again the author is merely begging the question—for, whether doctors have a moral requirement to provide contraceptives that trumps any moral objections they may have is precisely the point at issue.
Maybe the intended meaning is scientific. Human nature having evolved to be what it is, “sexually active” people “require” access to birth control to protect them from the rashness of their actions in the same way that children require plugs in electrical sockets and gates at the top of stairs. Perhaps, the author sees no difference beween his sexual urges and the laws of nature. But if that is the case, then, once again, he needs to argue the point, and not merely take it for granted.
I don’t really blame the author of the letter to the editor, who after all is still a student. But that The New York Times sees fit to publish such drivel speaks volumes.
So, talk of “reproductive rights” is entirely misplaced. Nobody is proposing to interfere with anyone’s right to reproduce. And if there is a “right” to compel people to help you not to reproduce when you choose to engage in the activity that naturally leads to reproduction, the case has not even been mooted thus far, much less made.
What is at issue, rather, is clearly whether the state has the right to compel some people to act against the dictates of their consciences. The only possible justification for the state to impose such an intolerable burden on some of its citizens is if in so doing it accomplishes some greater good. What, in this case, is the greater good?
Here, we can see that the entire case for the Obama administration’s decision rests on the Institute of Medicine’s claim (as reported in the article cited above) that “birth control is not just a convenience but is medically necessary ‘to ensure women’s health and well-being.’”
But how can this be? After all, it is not as though we were talking about some contagious infection. Much less a degenerative disease of aging. If a woman doesn’t want to get pregnant, she presumably knows another sure-fire method of prevention. So, how can birth control be “medically necessary”?
What about the Institute’s list? Well, all of the risks mentioned—abortion, depression, the danger from pregnancy itself—are eminently preventable by means other than birth control. So, once again, where is the “medical necessity” of compelling people of faith to violate their consciences?
As for the off-label medical uses of birth-control pills, either an exception could be made for such cases, or else the active ingredients of birth-control pills that prove useful in the other cases could be repackaged in a non-contraceptive form. There is no difficulty of principle here.
Finally, though it is somewhat off the main subject of this column, since the NYT editorial brings it up, I cannot help commenting on our newspaper of record’s claim that the Texas law compeling doctors to help a woman to see better exactly what an abortion means is “wholly unnecessary for informed consent.”
The whole problem with the abortion debate is that secular liberals take refuge in platitudes and refuse to face up to the reality of abortion. Is it really too much to ask of a woman that she listen to her child’s heartbeat and see its image in a sonogram, before she decides to authorize its dismemberment? Better ask: How could her consent possibly be informed if she does not have the opportunity of doing these things?
Of course, sonograms and fetal heartbeats are only small steps toward facilitating what is truly needed. And that is a revolution of courage in the hearts of all Americans.
Abortion will not end until women and their doctors both acquire the courage to confront the concrete results of their theoretical decisions. Once men and women stop averting their eyes, and actually look into the abortionist’s bucket, this barbaric practice cannot long endure.
* * *
In conclusion, to view birth control as a “right,” a “requirement,” a “medical necessity,” and so forth only makes sense if copulation is something over which we have no control, and the result of copulation—pregnancy—is viewed as a “disease.”
But this way of speaking about copulation and pregnancy is Orwellian. In fact, it’s worse than Orwellian—it’s downright idiotic.
The idiocy of viewing pregnancy as a “disease” is not just a feebleness in the secular-liberal logical faculty, however. Would that that were the only difficulty we had to face as a society!
No, the whole Obama-adminstration birth-control imbroglio shows that the idiocy we have to deal with here is much worse than any inability to reason rightly. It consists of an inability to feel rightly—or else a lack of courage to act on one’s right feelings against one’s pleasure and convenience, which is worse.
In a word, it is moral idiocy.