On March 25 the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case dealing with the Affordable Care Act's mandate of contraception/abortifacients. The question is whether or not the government can use its power to coerce employers to take an action that violates their moral beliefs. March 25 is also nine months before December 25, so it is the Feast of the Annunciation to Mary, also known as the Incarnation. Maybe it's a bit of divine irony that the Supreme Court is hearing a case dealing with contraception on the day we celebration the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary.
The Court decided to take two cases not involving religious employers or religious affiliated employers but rather two non-religious for-profit companies (Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp.) So the question before the Court is: do owners of non-religious companies still retain their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion in their business practices? Or if they look at the issue through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: does the mandate constitute a "compelling government interest" and if so, is it being applied in the "least restrictive manner"? That would be the broadest possible view the Court could look at but they often choose to take a much narrower approach leaving many questions unanswered.
Hopefully the ruling will be broad enough to include religious employers whose lawsuits have flooded the courts with varying results. (At this point our local church employee health insurance plan has been "grandfathered in" for now and does not contain the "contraception mandate" however if chemical contraception is prescribed for treatment other than birth control it is covered by our insurance.)
What I find most interesting about this issue is that of all the Church's teachings, the one concerning the beginnings of human life, which is the one teaching least understood and infrequently adhered to, is the one that has risen to the top as a point of controversy and getting lots of attention. It almost seems as if God does not want us to ignore the importance of this teaching or its significance for our spiritual and religious lives.
It also seems that the Spirit has given us a timely opportunity to reflect on the teaching enshrined in the 1968 Papal Teaching Humanae Vitae. This piece of Catholic moral theology was and has been poorly understood and often vilified. Yet since that time we have learned that artificial birth control is not as harmless as it is often promoted. Ironically women who are not sick take a pill and often then become sick. We know today that chemical contraception can cause all sorts of health issues (just read the warning label) including cancers, blood clots and even death. Unfortunately as Holly Girggs-Spall points out in her book Sweetening the Pill, "Millions of healthy women take a powerful medication every day from their mid-teens to menopause - the Pill - but few know how this drug works or the potential side effects. Contrary to cultural myth, the birth-control pill impacts on every organ and function of the body, and yet most women do not even think of it as a drug. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, rage, panic attacks - just a few of the effects of the Pill on half of the over 80% of women who pop these tablets during their lifetimes."
Contraception also can have a subtle but pernicious effect on marital love by closing off one of the spiritual channels that allow spouses to freely and totally give themselves over to the other. Or as Mary Eberstadt declares in her book: Adam and Ever after the Pill, "No single event since Eve took the apple has been as consequential for relations between the sexes as the arrival of modern contraception". Seems to me that God is using science to back up the veracity of the Church's teaching.
As you can see the issue is multifaceted, from the moral, to the spiritual, to the legal, to the philosophical, to the psychological and physiological. The question before religious believers is one of maintaining our moral principles no matter what the government or Court decree. The question before the Supreme Court is a matter of legal jurisprudence. Hopefully when the Supremes sing they will strengthen our First Amendment protects otherwise we lovers of the First Amendment might be singing to them: "Where did our love go"?
May Jesus who was conceived in the womb of Mary enlighten our Supreme Court Justices.
Love, Fr. John B.