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The HHS mandate in historical perspective


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The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is intrinsically wrong, and that its wrongness is a matter of ordinary morality--"natural law"--which in principle a reasonable person ought to see, like the wrongness of theft, adultery, or murder.

So, although the HHS mandate does indeed violate religious freedom, more basically it is an attack on conscience. It is the state compelling citizens to endorse and cooperate with something which is intrinsically wrong.

Analytically, then, the mandate is similar to a commanding officer who tells a soldier to commit an unjust action on the battlefield. If the soldier were to refuse to obey, as we all know he should, his defense would properly appeal in the first instance, not to his religious liberty, but rather to his conscience.

It is important for Catholics to appreciate that from an historical perspective the Catholic Church's teaching is not the anomaly. The common, universal view of all responsible institutions in the West, until 1930, was exactly that contraception is wrong as a matter of ordinary morality. In that year, however, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops created an uproar by tentatively suggesting that some married couples might, in some limited circumstances, use contraception without doing wrong.

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