Contraceptives for Nuns? Government at Its Most Absurd

How absurd can a law be, to force nuns (who have taken vows of both poverty and celibacy) to explain to the state why they don’t want to pay for contraception? That requirement was too much for Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who issued a temporary injunction against ObamaCare’s mandate that health plans must cover contraception.

r-NUNS-BIRTH-CONTROL-large570I am not sure it is possible to describe all the absurdity of the contraceptive issue in a few hundred words. And I do mean “all”, because some of the law’s opponents are engaged in a disproportionate response to the contraceptive mandate.

But first, the law itself. As a religiously affiliated organization, the Little Sisters of the Poor is exempt from the mandate. However, the law requires the order to file paperwork to that effect with the third-party administrator (TPA) of their health plan. They cannot just pay for a health plan that does not cover contraceptives without a co-pay.

Perhaps this bureaucratic burden is a fraud-prevention technique. There may be groups of lascivious atheists who plan to dodge the contraceptive mandate by dressing in black habits, registering as non-profit religiously affiliated monastic orders, and praying most of their waking hours. But I very much doubt it.

The New York Times editorialized against Sotomayor’s injunction, claiming that it was just another case of an employer imposing its religious values on its employees. I did not think monastic orders had “employees”. Isn’t quietly working under the Abbess’ or Abbot’s direction part of the deal? But the New York Times has a point. This is why a Catholic university, like Georgetown, has to obey the mandate. Sandra Fluke, then a law student there, participated in a Democratic publicity stunt on Capitol Hill in 2012, arguing that Georgetown should be forced to pay for her free contraceptives.

Is there no other solution that to impose the state’s power on people and institutions who oppose contraception? Well one would be for Georgetown, and other Catholic universities, to expel all non-Catholic students and fire all non-Catholic staff. Alternatively (and I honestly have not read this anywhere else, so it must be remarkably original), Sandra Fluke could have attended law school at any one of the dozens of non-Catholic law schools in the United States.

On the other hand, why are the anti-contraception forces so up in arms about the mandate? Before ObamaCare, contraception was a “universally available benefit and is excluded only at a customer/employer’s request”, according to a reimbursement consultant’s report.

Most Catholics work for secular private or government employers. I have never met one who turned down a job offer at the New York Police Department, or IBM, or Morgan Stanley, or Wal-Mart because the health plan covered contraception. Granted, these are not “mandates”, but the Catholic is paying for what he believes is an immoral service, nevertheless.

Beyond advocating against the mandate, Catholic leaders should be advocating for individually owned health insurance, so that every person is free to choose the health plan that suits his needs. A Catholic who does not want to invest his retirement savings in companies producing immoral goods or services is free to invest his money in Ave Maria Mutual Funds. Why isn’t he free to purchase a health plan that is certified by the Church as compliant with its values, wherever he works?

(This brings me back to a previous post, about the emerging private exchanges as a way to migrate from employer-based to individually-owned health insurance. In such exchanges, employees have a choice of plans from different insurers. Those that are certified Catholic (or Baptist, or Jewish, or…) could easily be identified in the exchange, facilitating exercise of conscience without coercion.)

Comments (35)

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  1. Responsible_Development says:

    Also, generic birth control costs only $5 per month. There’s not even a strong economic argument for the contraception mandate, except to the extent that many people want a high-cost brand

  2. Chris says:

    Uh you obviously don’t have a firm grasp of the issue Mr. Graham, the issue being religious liberty. I say this as an atheist, but an enlightened one who realizes freedom of religion is a two way street.

    First of all, in no way shape or form does an employer not providing free birth control pills push that employer’s religion on the employee.

    1. The employee has voluntarily chosen to take the job.
    2. The employer pays the employee a wage which the employer has absolutely no say over how it is spent. The employee is 100% free to do what all women have done for the last 50 years, and buy birth control herself.

    It is a canard that doesn’t pass even the basest logic test to say that an employee is forced to accept a religious view of her employer when she is completely free to make her own choices. No one holds a gun to her head preventing her from buying birth control, or switching jobs, period.

    The employer, however, is not so lucky. A gun is held to his head. If he doesn’t provide the birth control he is fined, if he doesn’t pay the fine he is imprisoned, if he tries to escape from prison he is shot. It doesn’t matter if he is a priest or a regular guy, no where does it say that a business owner gives up his constitutionally protected freedoms by virtue of starting a business. Not only should religious orders be exempt from this mandate, every business should be if they want to.

    People wonder why the religious in this country are so up in arms about gay marriage, and I say this as a marriage equality supporter. Perhaps they fear that they will be forced to forgo their beliefs in the future because of some government mandate?

    Freedom of religion is a two way street. Gay marriage should be legal, this mandate illegal. Period.

    You will notice, no where, and I mean no where, in our constitution does it say “Women have a right to have birth control paid for by a third party they have voluntarily chosen to associate with.” It does however say we have freedom of religion, and not on page 37, it is almost the first line in the bill of rights.

    It isn’t a battle between the employer’s religious views and the employee’s. The employee is free to spend her own money on whatever she like, she is not free to force the employer to spend his on something that violates his views.

    A solution would be taxpayer funded birth control. Rather than forcing priests to buy pills for coeds, let the taxpayers do it. As a secular government that would be perfectly legal. There certainly is a public interest in reducing the volume of unwanted babies. But for the government to say to one private citizen that he has to buy a product for another private citizen when that product is legitimately religiously objectional (Catholics have been against birth control forever, that is a legitimate religious view of theirs), that, is wrong, if we live in a free country.

    • Adam says:

      “A solution would be taxpayer funded birth control. Rather than forcing priests to buy pills for coeds, let the taxpayers do it… There certainly is a public interest in reducing the volume of unwanted babies.”

      You realize priests are taxpayers, right? Also, based on current birthrates, there is a definite interest in expanding the number of births rather than shrinking it. Which coincides with the fact that contraception hasn’t decreased the number of unwanted pregnancies when compared to a time before it was widely available.

      • Chris says:

        Priests can be taxpayers yes, but taxes are not the same thing as the the government forcing person A to buy something for person B directly. We have a constitution that makes our government secular, so government spending cannot be restrained by religious concerns. The government cannot force private individuals to also be secular if they’re religious.

        • Adam says:

          By that argument, taxpayers shouldn’t have a problem with government funded abortions or the federal government subsidizing a state’s executions because it’s indirect. The issue of morality in this is so sticky, with such a likelihood that people will find themselves funding something they think objectionable that it seems better to avoid the issue all together and only fund as little as possible/necessary.

          • Chris says:

            You are correct, except being against abortion or the death penalty are not necessarily religious standpoints. You can be against both and not believe in a god. We have a secular government, not necessarily an amoral government. If through the democratic process the legislature decides that abortion is murder, it can do so outside of attributing it to a religious belief.

            Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what is for dinner. Liberty is a well armed sheep contesting the vote. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights were created to give that sheep his arms, to protect us from tyranny of the majority. The majority cannot force a priest to violate his religious beliefs, but the majority can decide to authorize the government to do something the priest would not. That is how you have both democracy and liberty.

            • Jimbino says:

              You’re quite right, Chris, but:

              Is not government’s according 1000+ special rights to marriage not a product of religion rather than secularism?

            • Adam says:

              I agree, except it troubles me that I get the impression that you think opposition to contraception is purely a religious standpoint with no basis in rationality. This is wrong, as even Plato argues that nothing should come between a man and a woman when it comes to having children.

              • Jimbino says:


                It’s not clear whom you’re disagreeing with, but let me say that any rational person interested in the welfare of the plant and animal kingdoms would be in favor of contraception, whether religious or not.

                Plato is entitled to his opinions; what he’s not entitled to is forcing me to participate in his tax program to maintain the rampant breeding.

                • Adam says:

                  I was replying to Chris, specifically the first couple of sentences of his last response.

                  “but let me say that any rational person interested in the welfare of the plant and animal kingdoms would be in favor of contraception, whether religious or not.”

                  The Neo-Malthusian ideas behind that sentiment have been discredited. The original ideas of Thomas Malthus were discredited during his own lifetime.

                  • Jimbino says:

                    Malthus aside, my comment about the plants and animals rejoicing was more biblical than serious.

                    What I do know is that my life and vital interests are threatened by all the tax-supported breeding at the hands of Obamacare and USSA policy in general.

                    I think taxing the child-free to support breeders is a call to arms!

  3. Adam says:

    The left wants government out of the bedroom, but at the same time wants their bedroom activities subsidized. They can’t have it both ways.

  4. Mark says:

    “Beyond advocating against the mandate, Catholic leaders should be advocating for individually owned health insurance”

    It’s so nice to hear from outside sources what Catholic leaders should be doing. /sarcasm

  5. Wilbur says:

    “A Catholic who does not want to invest his retirement savings in companies producing immoral goods or services is free to invest his money in Ave Maria Mutual Funds. Why isn’t he free to purchase a health plan that is certified by the Church as compliant with its values, wherever he works?”

    Bingo. And as the freedom of Catholics expands, so does all of our freedom.

    • Billy says:

      And as it diminishes, so does ours as well.

    • Jimbino says:

      Right, and when the RC Church, that leading beacon of socialism in the USSA, wants to mount a revolution in the streets against Obamacare, SS, Medicare, public education and wanton breeding, I’m there with them with bells on!

  6. Adam says:

    It’s also interesting that you felt a need to say that you’ve never met a Catholic who turned down a job because of contraception. Was that necessary?

  7. Jimbino says:

    The poster and even Chris don’t get the issues quite right.

    First of all, Obamacare isn’t health care and it isn’t even insurance. It is a socialist program to transfer wealth from the young to the old, from men to women, from the healthy to the sick and from the prudent user of health care to the hypochondriac. There is no reason that congress, the Amish, nuns or priests or religious organizations should be exempt from these socialist policies.

    Secondly, the argument that nuns have no interest in birth control is silly. Nuns also have no interest in perinatal care, which they also contribute to. They have no interest in prostate surgery or circumcision either. Furthermore, the group most offended by such care are men, who run no risk of pregnancy.

    Finally, the vast majority of Catholics practice birth control and they don’t stop being Catholics by so doing. The pope is entitled to his opinion, but remember, as the pope himself has just said, he’s not one to judge! All Catholic employees, even those working for churches, are entitled to birth control under socialist Obamacare, just like everyone else.

    The solution to all these problems and many more is clearly to bring down Obamacare, just as the solution to most problems of the Soviet Union was to bring it down.

    • Adam says:

      “The pope is entitled to his opinion”

      It is not mere opinion. It is the infallible declaration of Humanae Vitae, and was a part of the teachings of all Christians until 1930.

      • Jimbino says:

        Yo Adam, read yo history. Once we had two popes. One pope was a woman. John Hus, Martin Luther, and Giordano Bruno, not to mention the Gnostic Christians and all those others of the first three centuries would not agree with the teachings of the RC Church “before 1930.” And that’s just counting the Roman Catholics. Jesus wasn’t even a Christian, for chrissake!

        • Adam says:

          Your lack of historical knowledge is literally breathtaking.

          There is only ever one pope, that is, there is only ever one true bishop of Rome. People have simultaneously claimed the title, but it is the equivalent of claiming that you won the Presidential election after all the votes have already been counted. You can claim it all you want, the other guy still one.

          The Pope Joan myth is a complete historical fallacy that has been utterly discredited by all circles. It arose from English propaganda during the Reformation, and has no, let me repeat that, NO historical backing.

          And what’s really funny is that all the people you mention would have been against contraception. John Hus only disagreed over wealth and the offering of the Eucharist in only one species, Martin Luther is on record agreeing with Augustinian theology (which is where the Church derives parts of the Theology of the Body, and Giodrino Bruno can hardly be counted as a Christian at all (and is thus excluded from the view of Christian belief).

          Gnostic Christians hated the physical world, to the point where they preached the body as evil. Sex AT ALL was evil to them, as was only permitted in the lower castes of the religion in order to propagate it. The idea that these people would support contraception is ludicrous.

          And that reference to 1930? That’s when the Lambeth Conference allowed contraception. What’s the Lambeth Conference? It’s the regular meeting of the leaders of the Anglican Church. You know what happened in 1920? They reiterated that contraception was morally wrong. When they reversed that in 1930 there was outrage, in fact newspapers reported this issue and most Protestant denominations couldn’t believe they had done it. Yet within a few decades they all had done the same while only Catholic and Eastern Orthodox remained true.

          I’m sorry you only have the semblance of education, but history is not on your side on this issue.

          • Jimbino says:

            Wow, Adam,

            I must have struck a chord in a Rosary Fiddler. And here in a discussion over Health Care.

            I get my facts from Wikipedia, trying hard not to let my years of seminary education get in the way.

            Wikipedia says that Giordano Bruno, “born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar.” You say he wasn’t even a Christian. OK, Martin Luther was a bad Catholic and he called the pope “a fart arising from Rome.”

            Of course, the lesson in the life of Bruno is that the leader of the RC Church had him burned at the stake, in part because of his Copernican cosmology, which science has proven to be true. As a physicist, I find that enough to declare war on the pope, whether male or female.

            • Adam says:

              Oh, my poor, unobservant friend. Let’s have another go at this:

              “You say he wasn’t even a Christian”
              Nope, I said, “Giodrino Bruno can hardly be counted as a Christian at all.” Now, I know the distinction there is subtle but if you will pay a wee amount of attention you will see that being “hardly” a Christian and “not even” a Christian are not the same thing. Turning to that Wikipedia, which you so adore, after not 2 minutes of reading what did I see? “Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith pertaining to Jesus as Christ” which would place him outside the realm of being a Christian. Otherwise, we could throw in Islam and say they’re Christians too, after all, they claim that Christ exists and was a prophet. Yet any rational person can see that something more is required to be believed in order to be Christian. As to whether he really believed it, I don’t know. After all, I can’t see inside his mind (as you evidently can with your brilliant claims as to knowing what his faith was) but I can only see that the pantheistic ideals he espoused are in conflict with Christianity and thus his views on contraception would also likely be un-Christian. But again, we don’t know! There’s no evidence about it either way, but that hasn’t stopped you from claiming him to your side. Well done. I’m glad your time machine and/or magic mirror works so well.

              “OK, Martin Luther was a bad Catholic”

              Where did I say he was a good Catholic? Agreeing with Augustinian theology is not the same as being a good Catholic. One can be a good Catholic AND agree with Augustinian theology, but it is not necessary to agree with Augustinian theology to be a good Catholic. BUT Martin Luther was certainly Christian, which no one can deny. After all, the barest belief of Christianity is the divinity of Christ which Luther confessed and held. Disputes about ecclesiology do not make you stop being a Christian. If that were true, then it would be analogous to say that disputes over whether the Senate should be elected by the people or by the states makes you un-American. As to Mr. Luther’s views on contraception, we turn again to your Wikipedia to find: “Still, all major early Protestant Reformers, and indeed Protestants in general until the twentieth century, condemned birth control as a contravention of God’s procreative purpose for marriage.” which seems to seal the deal in my favor there.

              The lesson which we derive from Bruno is a radically different one if we have even one iota of historical knowledge. He was tried for heresy, his cosmological views being derived from his theological views, not vice-versa. To claim him as a martyr for science is to retard the great strides we have made in how we acquire knowledge. To again quote Wikipedia, ‘According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “in 1600 there was no official Catholic position on the Copernican system, and it was certainly not a heresy. When […] Bruno […] was burned at the stake as a heretic, it had nothing to do with his writings in support of Copernican cosmology.”‘

              As a physicist you should spend more time studying apples falling from trees, and leave the works of history and philosophy to those of us who are far better trained.

              • Jimbino says:

                Hey Adam,

                Do you realize that:

                Jesus was not a Christian, nor were his disciples. All were Jews and never denied it.

                The inventor of Christianity was Paul, who got a vision when temporarily blinded by glare of someone’s windshield.

                All your counting of angels on a pin-head leaves me cold. What I do know is that there’s no way in hell that I consider the Pope to have the authority to interfere with my sex, drug or R&R life.

                I say, keep him preoccupied with talking snakes, stringed beads, kneeling, repetitious prayers and blessing new cars.

                • Adam says:

                  Wow. Your philosophical, theological, and ecclesiological ideas are simply amazing. I’m awed by your brilliance.

                  Oh, wait, no, I actually have an education in this field.

                  I’m not going to bother to respond to your points. It takes me back to my undergraduate years, and frankly I don’t want to bore myself rehashing arguments that no intelligent person even considers anymore. Besides, I’d have a better chance of converting a building than having a rational discussion with someone who spouts off non-sequiturs as if they had any intellectual weight.

                  • Jimbino says:

                    Hey, I am an expert at spouting one non-sequitur following another, ad infinitum, without pause.

                • Buster says:

                  As I recall, the debate about whether Jesus’ teachings should be shared with gentiles created a rift in the early church. Some thought only Jews should hear the Gospel.

                  • Adam says:

                    Which led directly to the Council of Jerusalem which established that while belief in Christ carried with it certain Jewish rites (such as Baptism) the Jewish law had been fulfilled, so seeking to find righteousness under the law was not sufficient. You need what fulfill the law, what perfects the person to not sin again rather than simply knowing you have sinned, and that fulfillment is Christ.

                    • Jimbino says:


                      How was it, exactly, that the Council of Jerusalem, not to mention the Council of Nicaea, had the authority to establish ANYTHING?

    • Billy says:

      “Secondly, the argument that nuns have no interest in birth control is silly. Nuns also have no interest in perinatal care, which they also contribute to. They have no interest in prostate surgery or circumcision either.”

      You say its silly, and then you give a damn good reason on why it isn’t, and why the system shouldn’t force them to pay for it.

      • Wilbur says:

        That’s the problem with insurance: give me what I want by paying for something you neither want nor need.

      • Jimbino says:


        I have said that in the interests of humanity and common sense, Obamacare needs to be overturned.

        But since Obamacare is merely a socialist program of wealth transfer, nuns need to participate as well. It has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with compulsion by the gummint.