Government vs. our consciences

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Young adults kneel in prayer with other participants at a rally outside the Department of Health and Human Services March 23 in Washington. The rally was one of many held across the country to oppose the HHS contraceptive mandate. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Americans have produced a nation unlike any other on the planet. We donate more time and money to charitable causes than any other people. We have fought wars with enormous casualties to end one kind of oppression or another since our founding. There are probably more people opposing abortion, contraception, illegitimacy and divorce in America than in any other country. We are far from perfect, but our desire for goodness is unparalleled in the world. These great outpourings of generosity — of time, money, even life itself — reflect more than anything else, our consciences.

Yet strangely, many in our current government believe that ordinary people need assistance in forming their consciences. They intend — if necessary — to override the consciences of employers, with a mandated requirement from the Department of Health and Human Services. Health insurance, if provided for their employees, must include contraception, abortifacients and sterilization procedures.

Who might object?

Well-formed consciences are not part of the current government’s paradigm. And few enjoin us to properly form our consciences besides the Church — which many within the Church tend to ignore anyway. So it looked to HHS like there would be little objection and they could get away with whatever they liked. Yet good consciences hold our society together far more than do our laws, and good consciences protect the weak and voiceless —not only in the U.S. but throughout the world. Our consciences very much make us who we are.

How about the medical establishment? There’s a few voices crying in the wilderness, but don’t expect a lot of medical opposition to this or any other mandate which doesn’t threaten pocketbooks. It’s rare for doctors and other health care workers to have consciences in accord with the Magisterium. The typical professional training curriculum does not include such ethical formation — on the contrary.

What could happen?

If the HHS gets its way, expect provisions for abortions, in-vitro and embryonic stem cell technologies, infanticide, assisted suicide, euthanasia and more. The list goes on — and nothing is too horrible once our consciences have been weakened.

People who learn to ignore or deceive their consciences, even in a small way, and even if forced by their government, don’t just continue on with their consciences otherwise intact. For them, violation of a moral precept makes violation of any moral precept easier. Which means that the unthinkable becomes possible — including unjust wars, murders, torture, slavery, mass imprisonments, human trafficking, forced abortion, and even genocide. Governments are not incapable of any of these if they are expedient and unopposed.

 The ethicists enter

Writing in the August edition of Ethics and Medics, Dr. John Haas and other ethicists of the National Catholic Bioethics Center have stated the moral positions an employer might take regarding the HHS mandate.

To simply comply and ignore one’s conscience — the option our present government hopes for — is clearly immoral and involves formal cooperation with evil.

An employer could drop all insurance. But this might result in severe hardship for employees. The most reasonable position propounded by the ethicists, therefore seems for most employers to temporarily comply under protest and but work to oppose the mandate. They note that one business has already gotten a temporary injunction based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

How can the rest of us help?

The present government means to force employers to choose between the welfare of their employees and violation of their consciences. This flagrant abuse of Constitutional rights is not just a Catholic issue — it affects everyone in America because if the government can do it to employers, they can do it to the rest of us. We all need to fight this. How?

By the grace of God, we are still blessed with a representative form of government over which we have some control. This could be significantly changed by 2016. Our best hope for change is through our voting process. November is coming — watch for it. Benedicamus Domino.

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