Catholics will soon lose the HHS Mandate court battle

…and we have only ourselves to blame.

My position on the HHS mandate is that the government should NOT require health care plans to include abortion, abortifacient contraception, or contraception as covered products or services. For according to the definitive teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, abortion, abortifacient contraception, and contraception are each intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. And as Pope Saint John Paul II taught in Veritatis Splendor, intrinsically evil acts are never justified by intention or circumstances. Such acts are inherently immoral, by the very nature of the act, and therefore are always wrong to knowingly choose.

For this reason, the U.S. Bishops have argued (in their amicus curiae brief) that the government should not compel organizations “to include in their employee health plans coverage of sterilization, contraceptives, and drugs and devices that may cause abortions, as well as related education and counseling.”

“Thus, to ensure that numerous Catholic and other religious nonprofit organizations are not forced to act in violation of their religious beliefs, it is of vital importance that this Court reaffirm that in assessing whether a law imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise, courts should steer well clear of deciding religious questions. Once a plaintiff represents that taking a particular action — whatever that may be — violates his or her religious beliefs, a court’s only task is to confirm the sincerity and religiosity of that representation, and then to determine if the Government has placed substantial pressure on the plaintiff to violate his or her beliefs.”

Unfortunately, I cannot “confirm the sincerity and religiosity of that representation” by my fellow Catholics.

For I am appalled by the hypocrisy of so many Catholics, who argue strenuously against the HHS mandate, while justifying abortifacient contraception in many cases. And since abortifacient contraception includes both sins — abortion and contraception — any justification of abortifacient contraception is a justification of both sins.

Some Catholics go so far as to proclaim that this justification of abortifacient contraception is merely the correct understanding of Church teaching. By publicly stating that abortifacient contraception is neither intrinsically evil nor immoral, they make it clear that the HHS Mandate does not violate their own religious beliefs. They do not oppose the use of abortifacient contraception. They only oppose paying for it.

So when they object, unequivocally and emphatically, to the HHS mandate, they speak with insincerity and false religiosity. In fact, they do not believe that the use of abortifacient contraception or mere contraception (without any abortifacient effect) is always wrong. They believe that a proper understanding of Catholic teaching allows the use of abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose, depending on the intention of the individual and the circumstances. How then do they justify their own inflexible and unqualified opposition to the HHS Mandate? How can they know the intentions or circumstances of health care recipients in advance? They cannot. Their position on this issue is blatant hypocrisy.

Eventually, the other side in these court cases is going to find out our dirty little secret: that many Catholic priests, theologians, and authors have been openly arguing and teaching, for many years now, that contraception — even when it has an abortifacient effect — is often morally justifiable, and that the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops have never corrected them. This point nullifies the legal argument that the HHS Mandate forces Catholics to act against their conscience. How is it against your conscience to pay for contraception in a health care plan for someone else, when you yourself use contraception or openly justify its use by others?

Unfortunately, a large percentage of Catholics, married, divorced and remarried, or single and sexually-active, use abortifacient contraception. And the vast majority of Catholics do not believe that using abortifacient contraception is necessarily always immoral. When Catholic priests and lay leaders openly express and teach this view, they are not corrected by the U.S. Bishops. These facts fly in the face of the claim that compliance with the HHS Mandate forces Catholics to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. Most do not believe that contraception is always immoral. Most Catholic teachers claim that a proper understanding of Church teaching implies that abortifacient contraception can be justified by a medical purpose, or by intention and circumstances.

I have study the moral teachings of my beloved Church for many years. I am absolutely certain that the correct understanding of Church teaching is that abortion, abortifacient contraception, contraception, direct sterilization, and artificial procreation are each intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. No circumstance, no purpose, no intention, no law can ever justify any of these intrinsically evil acts because they are immoral by their very nature. A medical purpose or a non-contraceptive intention or a difficult circumstance can never justify any of these intrinsically evil acts. And when abortifacient contraception is used to treat a medical disorder, the spouses must refrain from sex or they will be guilty of the grave sins of contraception and abortion. Such is my sincere understanding of definitive Church teaching.

But I am outnumbered and shouted down by the majority of Catholic teachers, who have been proclaiming loudly for many years how abortifacient contraception can be approved under Church teaching by intention or circumstances. I fail to see how so many of my fellow Catholics can dream up one rationalization after another for the use of abortifacient contraception by Catholic spouses, while adamantly insisting that paying for a health care plan that includes coverage for abortifacient contraception is immoral. If the morality of an act depends only on intention and circumstances, or if the act is justified by a medical purpose, then there would be no basis for refusing to pay for a health care plan that includes such acts. For the business owner has no way of knowing in advance what the intention and circumstances may be.


1. Catholic hospitals

Most Catholic hospitals permit their physicians to prescribe contraception and abortifacient contraception. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic hospitals issued by the U.S. Bishops says: “Any cooperation institutionally approved or tolerated in actions which are in themselves, that is, by their nature and condition, directed to a contraceptive end … is absolutely forbidden.” [ERD, footnote 44]. And yet Catholic hospitals regularly dispense abortifacient contraception with no correction from the U.S. Bishops. They strenuously object to paying for abortifacient contraception, but they remain silent when Catholic hospitals prescribe it.

2. the official USCCB website: “Beliefs and Teachings – What We Believe – Love and Sexuality”
“Is there ever a time ‘contraceptives’ may be used for medical reasons?
“Catholic teaching does not oppose the use of hormonal medications – such as those found in chemical contraceptives – for legitimate medical purposes, provided there is no contraceptive intent.”

Chemical contraceptives are abortifacient contraception. The above quote proposes that the use of abortifacient contraception by Catholic spouses is moral for “legitimate medical purposes”, and yet the USCCB opposes inclusion of abortifacient contraception in health care plans. Certainly, if an abortifacient pill is used while the woman refrains from sex, there is no sin of abortion or contraception, since there would be no sexual acts to bring about conception. But the USCCB does not state whether or not the married spouses must refrain from sex while taking abortifacient contraception for a medical reason.

The provision that there be “no contraceptive intent” is perplexing, since Pope Saint John Paul II taught that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral regardless of intention, purpose, or circumstances [Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae]. A contraceptive intent or any other bad intent would make any act immoral. But the absence of a morally-objectionable intention is not sufficient to make an act moral.

The USCCB also makes this statement on the HHS Mandate:

“Catholic ethical directives on health care (and the health plans based on them) allow use of medications for serious non-contraceptive purposes, even if the same drugs could also be prescribed for contraception.” [Issues and Action PDF file]

The above quote is from the USCCB statement “Twelve Things Everyone Should Know About the Contraceptive Mandate”. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the terms purpose and intention interchangeably: “the intention of the subject who acts, that is, the purpose for which the subject performs the act.” [n. 367]. So the same criticism applies, that the USCCB should have stated that a good intention or purpose is necessary, but not sufficient, and that the woman using abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose must refrain from sex so that her use of that type of medication does not cause abortions.

According to Pope Saint John Paul II in his encyclical on contraception and abortion, “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God….” [Evangelium Vitae 62]. Yet the U.S. Bishops’ two statements, quoted above, justify the use of abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose or a serious non-contraceptive purpose, in contradiction to the Pope-Saint’s teaching. If the USCCB were to qualify their statements with the provision that the person who is prescribed contraception refrain from all sexual activity while on the medication, their statement would be in harmony with Church teaching. But they have so far been silent on that point.

3. Jeff Mirus, Ph.D.

Dr. Jeffrey Mirus writes that contraception is “morally neutral in itself” when used by unmarried persons. And the U.S. Bishops have not corrected him.

“The intrinsic moral issue of artificial contraception is a marriage issue. Contraception has little or no intrinsic moral relevance outside of marriage…. many moralists have argued (I believe correctly) that contraception is morally neutral in itself when considered outside of marriage…. Outside of marriage…contraception is intrinsically morally irrelevant.” []

If contraception is not intrinsically evil when used outside of marriage, then why does Mirus oppose health care plans paying for contraception for unmarried persons? If the morality of contraception outside of marriage is based only on intention and circumstances, how can Mirus judge every possible intention and circumstance in advance and then conclude that a health care plan should never pay for contraception for unmarried persons? Mirus’ position is hypocritical.

My position is consistent: abortion, abortifacient contraception, and contraception are each intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, therefore no health care plan should pay for these grave sins.

4. Jimmy Akin
Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers

Akin writes that the Church does not ban contraception in all circumstances and that the Church has no teaching on whether contraception is moral or immoral outside of marriage.

“I am sympathetic to the desire to find in recent Magisterial statements a ban on contraception regardless of the circumstances. Indeed, I used to hold that this is what the documents said…. Over time, and in consultation with various Latin experts and experts in moral theology, I came to realize that this view is incorrect and that in its recent statements the Magisterium has limited itself to treating the use of contraception within marriage.” [ post]

Akin also writes that Church teaching against contraception is narrow and may allow for some use of contraception within marriage in some situations:

“What the Church — in Humanae Vitae and the Catechism — has done is say that one cannot deliberately frustrate the procreative aspect of sexual intercourse between man and wife. That’s actually a fairly narrow statement. It doesn’t even address all situations that may arise in marriages, because there may be situations in which the law of double effect would allow the toleration of a contraceptive effect as long as this is a side effect of the action rather than being intended as a means or an end.” [National Catholic Register post]

Akin also justifies the use of abortifacient contraception for a therapeutic purpose. He only condemns contraception if “the intention behind the act is to prevent the conception of a child.”

“If the first is the case then the use of the Pill is not contraceptive; it is therapeutic. As a result, it is potentially justifiable under the law of double effect. In that case, the contraceptive effect would be a side effect of the hormone regulation. It would not be a means or an end of the hormone regulation. For a sufficient reason, a side effect of infertility can be tolerated under the law of double effect.”

Concerning the prenatals who die as a result of abortifacient contraception, Akin writes: “Never having existed is a worse fate, if I may put it that way, than living only a short time and then having endless life without suffering.” [ post]

So Akin’s view, in summary, is that the Church has not banned contraception outside of marriage, that the Church does not condemn the use of contraception in all circumstances within marriage, that the use of abortifacient contraception can be justified by the principle of double effect, and that the deaths of prenatals caused by abortifacient contraception can be justified because “never having existed is a worse fate”.

Then what does he say about the HHS Mandate? He is absolutely unequivocally opposed to it. See he posts: Inside the Mind of Evil: Obama Administration’s HHS Decision and Spokeswoman of Evil Speaks! He justifies contraception in many cases, including abortifacient contraception which causes the deaths of innocent prenatals. But he is opposed to health care plans that pay for all these (supposedly) moral uses of contraception with no exceptions. His position is hypocrisy.

If there is no Church teaching forbidding the use of contraception outside of marriage, and if contraception in marriage can be justified by intention, or circumstances, or the principle of double effect, and if even abortifacient contraception and the resultant deaths of prenatals are morally justifiable, how is it that paying for all of these supposedly moral actions is “Evil”??

But let the reader understand that the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith on contraception is severely misrepresented by Jimmy Akin. The teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II does in fact condemn contraception in marriage and out of marriage, and abortifacient contraception, regardless of intention or circumstance. And the principle of double effect never justifies any intrinsically evil act. See my series of articles: Contraception and Heresy

5. Fr. Vincent Serpa
Catholic Answers Apologist

A Catholic posed this question to Fr. Serpa: “Yesterday you mentioned that the Church allows the use of the Pill for medical purposes other than birth control. Isn’t it true that the patient should abstain from marital relations while taking the Pill? I understand that the Pill can cause an unintended abortion of a fertilized egg before it has a chance to implant.”

Fr. Serpa wrote in response:

“The Church considers a miscarriage to be a physical evil. Since abortion DELIBERATELY causes a miscarriage, it is therefore also a MORAL evil. The Church sees an UNintended miscarriage as only a physical evil since it is not deliberately caused by the couple.”

“The use of the pill for medical reasons may cause an UNintended miscarriage. Women often have unintended miscarriages — sometimes without even knowing it. It is only miscarriages that are INTENDED that the Church considers immoral. The Church never allows the pill to be used as an abortifacient. But it does allow the use of the pill for medical reasons with the possibility of producing an unintended miscarriage — without obliging the couple to abstain from sexual relations during that time.” [Ask an Apologist]

And in answer to another question, Fr. Serpa writes:

“Since your wife is using the pill for medical reasons and not to contra-cept, the Church does not forbid you from having sexual intercourse. Any un-intended miscarriages that might result would not be considered by the Church to be abortions. This is a long-standing stance the Church has taken in similar situations. It’s good to remember, every time a husband and wife have sexual intercourse there is the possibility of an un-intended miscarriage occurring — even if the wife is not taking the pill for medical reasons!” [Ask an Apologist]

Fr. Serpa’s answers are contrary to the definitive teaching of the Church. Abortion is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, regardless of intention. When your deliberate choice directly causes the death of a prenatal child, you are guilty of the sin of abortion, regardless of intention. And it is blatant hypocrisy to label these direct abortions caused by abortifacient contraception as “miscarriages”. A true miscarriage occurs naturally, and not as the direct result of any decision or action by the couple. Intention does not justify abortion. Furthermore, the deliberate choices to take an abortifacient pill and to have sexual relations while on that pill make the resultant prenatal deaths abortion, not miscarriage.

Has Fr. Serpa been corrected by any Bishop, by the USCCB, or by the Vatican? Not publicly and not to my knowledge. The USCCB puts great time and effort into opposing the HHS Mandate, but when a priest publicly justifies abortifacient contraception, they remain silent.

My Position

If one women obtains one surgical abortion, she is guilty of one murder. If you publicly proclaim that abortifacient contraception is moral to use while sexually active, you are morally responsible for the deaths of all the prenatals resulting from your false teaching. If a Catholic priest or theologian or author publicly approves of the use of abortifacient contraception, he or she is guilty (by formal cooperation) of all the many abortions that result.

Teachers will have the stricter judgment. Many false teachers have risen up on the internet to proclaim one grave moral or doctrinal error after another, often with the false claim that such errors are really just a correct understanding of Catholic teaching. They are guilty before God for every soul harmed by their false teachings.

The teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II on morality generally and on abortion and contraception specifically are clear. Intrinsically evil acts are never justified by the intention or purpose of the act, nor by any particular set of circumstances. Abortion, abortifacient contraception, and contraception are each intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

But most Catholics have rejected these teachings. And the U.S. Bishops have so far failed to correct them. They put a great deal of time and effort into political controversies, such as the HHS Mandate and gay marriage, and too little time and effort into teaching the faith and correcting grave errors in the beliefs and acts of the members of their flocks.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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2 Responses to Catholics will soon lose the HHS Mandate court battle

  1. Paul says:

    I’m glad you posted this, Ron. The usual answers I see regarding this issue always seem to be too permissive, and like looking for loopholes in a legal contract. Through my ignorance I reluctantly accepted these answers (although without practicing or advocating for them), and it disappointed me that even the Catholic Church’s teaching was unsatisfying to my conscience. I concluded that life was complex and perhaps others suffered in ways that I did not understand, and I should submit to the authority of the Church.

    But now that you raise this objection, I find much comfort in it. In strengthens my faith in The Faith. But it does raise another issue for me: We have an official, divinely-appointed interpreter of the truth. Who is the official interpreter of the interpretation? How much moral responsibility does a regular Catholic have if their local bishop or priest leads them into error? And if one chooses to reject their given interpretation of the interpretation, where does one draw the line? It seems like a fuzzy boundary that, for some, may end in either silently dismissing certain teachings of the Church — when deciding to reject the interpretation of the interpretation from a liberal point of view — or perhaps schismatic tendencies – when rejecting it from a conservative point of view. If priest A’s view is substantially more liberal than priest B’s, then it doesn’t seem quite so bad if laity C’s view is slightly more liberal; and the ball of relativism is then rolling.

    And let us also consider that many Catholics may not have the resources or education to make a well-informed judgment on these issues. Should we not fairly assume that they are most likely going to accept their local priest’s advice on this and similarly contentious issues? If they should not do so — if the buck stops with the individual — then is the Church practically an imperfect filter to aid the individual in their final decision? It’s understandably confusing to many Catholics.

    Ultimately, I cannot hear an interpretation that varies from the one you have presented herein without feeling that something is off. But I don’t know if others experience a similar uneasiness.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Well, we are all in the fallen state, so it is inevitable that controversies over interpretation and application of doctrine arise. If a priest or theologian or some online commentator leads others into grave sin, then he or she is morally responsible before God. Those who loosen the least of the commandments, will be least in Heaven. And those who loosen or nullify the greater commandments, might not make it to Heaven at all.

      Despite many incompetent teachers claiming that the Church approves of one or another grave sin, there really is very little basis in any Church documents for their claims. The two sources from the USCCB that I criticize simply do not say if the couple must refrain from sex when using “the pill” for medical purposes. And the magisterial documents from Popes and the CDF are quite clear, to mind, in condemning abortion and contraception unequivocally. But we live in a dark and perilous time. Soon the Church will clarify her teaching on this subject, and these false teachers will be rebuked.

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