Saturday, February 4, 2012

More Thoughts on the HHS Mandate

There are all sorts of ways one can look at the unjust HHS mandate forcing most employers to provide health insurance containing coverage for intrinsically immoral practices.

Perhaps the most entertaining – but also in the long run likely the least important – lens through which to look at it is that of electoral politics. Thus considered, this measure may serve to shore up the enthusiasm of the extreme cultural left for the President’s reelection campaign. Of course, that constituency was unlikely in any case to vote for Romney (or whoever the Republican candidate might be), but keeping a major constituency sufficiently enthused to bother to vote at all and to contribute to and otherwise support one’s campaign can be essential. Barack Obama benefited from the “enthusiasm gap” among Republicans in 2008, and his campaign certainly will want to avoid sharing John McCain’s fate this time around

Calculations about its possibly opposite effect on the “Catholic Vote,” however, may be exaggerated – or at least premature. Except in the purely demographic sense, it is not clear to me that there exists a “Catholic Vote.” I suspect that Catholics can be found at virtually every point on the political spectrum and that their voting decisions reflect the same multitude of issues that concern other Americans. It is possible, however, if this becomes widely seen as mainly an attack on the independence and integrity of Catholic social service institutions, that there will be some significant reaction among some Catholic voters, who identify with or care about the continued viability of those institutions. Certainly the sense of betrayal by the Administration felt by liberal Catholics who, so to speak, went out on a limb to support the President, particularly on Health Care Reform, has alienated that particular constituency. In a close election, any previously predictable constituency’s “enthusiasm gap” can count.

But there are other – more important – lenses through which to look at this crisis.

There is, for example, the moral or philosophical lens. The fundamental fact is that no one should be forced to provide or purchase health insurance that covers the procedures in question. Pregnancy is not an illness. Universal health care is greatly to be desired, but it should be about preventing and treating genuine disease – not redefining disease to reflect the anti-natalist prejudices of the cultural left. In the current ideological climate, there seems little likelihood that this argument will get much effective attention. But neither should it be left out of the discussion. The Church, after all, has a concern for the common good of society a whole.

All of which brings us back to the sectarian lens that rightly looks at this issue as a matter of properly protecting the right of religious Americans to follow their consciences. If the Church cannot advance the common good of society as a whole on this issue, it can certainly try to carve out a zone of privacy within which its members can practice their religion without State intrusion – as, for example, sects such as the Quakers and the Amish have historically struggled to do. As a practical matter, given that the First Amendment is still on the books, that is the most promising avenue for litigation, which is most likely where this issue will eventually be resolved.

There remains, however, also the Civil Society lens. Government is a good. A Hamiltonian at heart, I believe in strong, activist Government that articulates the values of society and marshals society’s resources to promote those values. But it is not Government’s mandate to suffocate society by displacing all non-governmental social activity and eliminating all social institutions that serve as intermediaries between the individual and the State. In this respect, the HHS regulation at issue is a direct challenge to the very existence and ideological legitimacy of non-governmental social institutions. And that is a very issue indeed.

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