Changing a Trumwill’s Mind: HHS Edition


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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244 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    What was persuasive argument #3?Report

  2. I agree that all the arguments you reject are bogus, though I’m not quite sure that I find the arguments that swayed you persuasive. The best argument to me is the one that started the birth control coverage mandate back in the 90s at the state level, which is that general prescription coverage that specifically excludes prescription contraceptives is discriminatory on the basis of sex, and is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    Obama’s mandate goes farther than the EEOC ruling or the existing state mandates, true, in requiring that contraceptives have no copay. Reversing the inequality of covering men’s sexual health but not women’s doesn’t require affirmative action. The logic that the bait of free contraceptives will bring more women into clinics for basic preventative care, which will mean healthier women and healthier babies and bring down total healthcare costs, is interesting but not compelling enough for a nationwide mandate—there are a dozen other things, like nicotine patches and prostate-exams-with-Viagra that could be argued to have the same effect, and they aren’t compelling either.

    But the point is that the Church especially in denying contraceptive coverage to secular female employees of lay corporations (hospitals and charities) was imposing its theology in the sphere of public employment in a way that no other employer would be allowed to get away with.  And that’s why the Blunt bill is a phenomenally bad idea. It enshrines two dangerous concepts: one, that individuals can claim a conscience exemption from generally applicable laws; and two, that the fact that monies are fungible makes any monetary transaction with the Government subject to a conscience exemption. Luckily Scalia himself knocks both these notions down in Smith, and the odds that the Blunt amendment would survive a constitutional challenge (on the long odds that it passed and Obama signed it) are slim.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:


      Though we (I think?) come to the same conclusion, we arrive at it by rather different ways. I consider sex discrimination to be a non-issue in the issue of whether female contraception is covered unless there is male contraception that is covered. I recognize that this is not a popular view around here, but it is where I am coming from.

      And, though I do not consider exceptionally broad conscience exemptions, I am at least somewhat partial to the concept. I do agree that it is problematic in the context of money, however. On the other hand, I consider there a difference between money that goes through the government and money that goes more directly towards the thing (it’s one thing to pay taxes that will fund abortion, it’s another thing that says that a man must pay an abortion doctor). In this case, it is indirect enough that it counters the main argument of not paying.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Reversing the inequality of covering men’s sexual health but not women’s doesn’t require affirmative action.

      There really isn’t any such inequality, is there? I mean, there’s not a difference in coverage of treatments of actual sexual dysfunction, is there? Viagra and contraceptives really aren’t analogous. One is a treatment for sexual dysfunction, and the other suppresses fertility.

      Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for suppressing fertility–but it’s just not analogous to treating disease.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        This is how the bishops define sexual health, but it doesn’t have to be how we do.  Managing one’s own personal fertility can be seen as just as much a part of sexual health as treating sexual dysfunction (which is itself a term begging for proper definition).  If you want to put forward the bishops’ argument for why that isn’t a legitimate view of sexual health, you certainly can, but you do need to put forward some argument for it if you want it to be more than just a personal view that compels no one else to hold it.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          If you want to put forward the bishops’ argument for why that isn’t a legitimate view of sexual health, you certainly can, but you do need to put forward some argument for it if you want it to be more than just a personal view that compels no one else to hold it.

          If we’re expecting the bishops (or anyone who follows their belief system) to make provisions for it (or suffer some adverse consequence), I’m not sure the burden is on them. Of course, part of the disagreement is over what counts as “make provisions.” Regardless of how the math works out, though, a lot of people here are indeed arguing that they should regardless of how the math works out.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            By “you” here I meant just Brandon, and I’m *only* talking about his construction of the category of health care we might call “sexual health maintenance” or just “sexual health” as including treating sexual dysfunction but not possibly other things such as managing one’s fertility.  I was only meaning to discuss a purely definitional question in the context of this thread, not make any arguments about applications beyond that.  I brought in the bishops because they (I believe) do have an argument to support such a construction, and I note that Brandon is lacking one, so I thought perhaps he might wish to adopt theirs if he finds it persuasive.  But bringing them in did make the context to which I was intending to confine my remarks very unclear, so the misunderstanding is on me.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          It’s not a question of whether we consider contraception a subset of sexual health care. That’s just semantics. What I said is that there’s no inequality, because Viagra isn’t the male analogue of oral contraceptives (at least, I assume that that’s the “inequality” to which Chris was referring). There is no real male analogue of oral contraceptives. And if there were, does anyone really think the Catholic hospitals would want to buy it for their employees?

          In fact, I’m willing to bet that when non-barrier male contraceptives become commercially available, the Catholic Church’s position on them will not be significantly different from its position on female contraceptives. Any takers?

          Where there’s a genuine equivalence in terms of what’s available for men and women–e.g., sterilization procedures–I’m fairly certain that the Church takes the same position regarding both. I’m no fan of the Catholic Church, but neither am I a fan of this kind of inaccurate rhetoric.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            What you said is that there’s no inequality in how we cover treatment of sexual dysfunction, but the suggestion you were attempting to treat by so doing was as to whether there is inequality in how we cover women’s as relates men’s “sexual health.”  So while it is a semantic question as to how those relate, is is a necessary one if you mean to treat the latter question (not a semantic question) by means of reference to the former category (perhaps only an ad hoc category in any case depending what you mean by it, and in certainly in need of proof as to its relevance to the question put, which of necessity will mean saying how it relates it to that question).Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              Where’s the inequality? What’s the treatment that they cover for men, and the analogous treatment for women that they do not cover?Report

  3. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Do you plan to make a similar post summarizing your views on the arguments in favor of the waiver?  (I’d particularly like to see what you thought of the “free exercise” angle.)Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      My view on the “free exercise” argument is that it is (a) not universal in application[1], (b) undermined at least somewhat by the fact that Catholic Hospitals are still free to do what they will[2], and (c) up to the courts to decide.

      [1] Bob Jones University being an example. I do not consider failure to subsidize contraceptives to be the equivalent of racial discrimination in scope, but it is indicative of limitations in place. Whether this applies as a limitation is subject to court determination.

      [2] They can use the exchanges.

      Any other arguments you are curious about? I will be touching on some of this in a future post.Report

  4. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    A note on #4: the last I paid attention, the RCC acknowledged that there were non-contraceptive reasons to take certain medications, and that they were allowable under that purpose; because their intention was not to reduce the likelihood of pregnancy.

    This may not be correct, granted.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I have heard mixed things about this. Regardless, though, #4 is rendered moot only if they withhold contraceptives only for when they are being used solely as contraceptives. If the Church were to say that it’s okay for the plan to cover it for this purpose but not that purpose, they would be on more solid footing.

      The notion of a drug being applicable for this purpose and not that purpose is not a novel concept. Buproprion is covered when used for depression, but not generally when used for smoking cessation. Bot the Buproprion and contraception rules are undermined by a willingness of smokers to say they are depressed when they are not or people who do not wish to produce complaining of bad cycles and cramps when they don’t exist. This is perhaps why the Church wants to steer clear entirely.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        I can remember at my Catholic High School that the queens of the school (no don’t get your hopes up, I’m talking females here) were prescribed birth control pills as a way to curtail acne. That was over 35 years ago and also as I recall the girls who were on the pill definitely had the “pimple” advantage over those who weren’t. Whether that was because they didn’t suffer from sexual frustration like the rest of us never made it into the equation. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        You can certainly get a hysterectomy or have your testicles removed due to cancer.  So there’s that.Report

  5. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Trapdoor rendering the entire post moot: “(1) This assumes courts determine compliance with the Constitution. Without such compliance, the popularity or marginalization of any belief doesn’t matter.”

    No court has the power to decree what is normative theology, going back to the unitarian problem in Founding-era Christianity, only its owners, and the Church owns the Church.  We know nothing about religious liberty in our age, and many don’t care.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Courts do have the power to determine compliance. They have, at the least, looked the other way when theology has demanded things considered to be undesirable by society (Bob Jones University, the founding of Utah). This may not be the desirable state of affairs, but it is the state of affairs. There is an argument to be made that if we believe the courts should find in a particular direction, we should not pursue laws that run contrary to that finding. This is where you are (by my reading of you) sold. I am not. If the courts do come to this conclusion, then we have to abide by that.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        WillT, the state is imposing its morality on a church.  There is no other 2), 3) or 4).

        There may be courts that permit such a thing.  Then the next court might reverse.  But nobody here or outside this forum has made the necessary case that free oral contraceptives remotely meet the “compelling interest” threshold, and absent such a compelling interest, there is no prudence or respect for constitutional principles in ramming this down the Roman church’s throat.

        Neither can anyone maintain that such arguments, even if valid, could not and will not be applied to abortion—a far more dramatic issue—in due course, regardless of denials of a “slippery slope.”  Folks like Mr. Bonneville have laid it quite bare.

        This is just the beginning, unless of course we flush Barack Obama from the presidency and likely this cultural aggression along with him for a generation.  This is Obama’s baby.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          The compelling interest is the provision for a standard of health care that includes contraceptives. Whether that interest is sufficiently compelling is a decision for the courts. I have not seen much indication, to date, that they do not view health care provisions as a compelling interest. This is where the 8/12/28 states thing does matter. Not in the sincerity of the opposition, but in the legal permissibility of the measure.

          I will be addressing aspects of the slippery slope in a future post. It is a concern, particularly as it relates to abortion. It actually could provide an important insight as to how common Ryan’s views are. However, if we reach the point where abortion is as ubiquitous as contraception in its support and usage, that battle is already lost. If anything, the equating of birth control and outright abortion assists, rather than resists, that outcome.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Will, free oral contraceptives as a compelling interest is not very defensible.  Hence you get mumbles like “pretty damn important to a woman’s health.”  What does that locution mean?  Not much except I like Policy A over Policy B.

            But this is not the shallow waters of policy preference.  As policy preference, contraceptives or no, I make it 97-3% in favor [incl meself, I guess].  But that’s not the topic and any line of argument on that line isn’t relevant.

            Your point about abortion is interesting, that if we’re discussing abortion then we’ve already steamrolled the Roman church’s religious liberty in paying for contraceptives.  Probably true.

            The entire Bart Stupak piece of theater showed that was a realistic and near-immediate concern, however, and just a slide-step down the slope. If Obama & Co. win this round, abortifacients will be next, then voluntary sterilizations, with the Roman church footing the bill against every fiber of her being.

            Likely, the Roman church will flee the public square before it comes down to abortion.  Just as her opponents want it, for her to abandon real life to them and their utilitarian morality, religion ghettoized to church halls and Sunday mornings.


            Religious institutions are not trying to control what their employees buy, use, or do in private; they are trying to avoid being conscripted by the government into paying for what they teach are immoral acts. It is the administration, and not the Catholic Church, that is imposing its values on the vulnerable and unpopular.

            Next, some insist that the mandate, like the host of other regulations to which religious institutions are subject, is just part of the price these institutions must pay for participating in public life and engaging in “secular” activities. When you enter the state’s arena, they say, you have to play by the state’s rules. But since when are educating the young, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and comforting the lonely “secular” activities? Rather than acting as though the government is doing religious institutions a favor by allowing them to care for others and transform the world, we should acknowledge that religious institutions were ministering to the needy well before the government got into the act, and that religiously inspired love-of-neighbor long pre-dates the welfare state. Indeed, instead of imposing a heavy-handed, conscience-burdening mandate on religious schools, hospitals, and agencies, perhaps the nation should consider a thank-you card and a reimbursement check.

            Soon every action will be subject to, and everyone one of us an agent of, the state, Will.  Civil society will disappear and the nation will become the sum only of its laws and taxes and programs.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              Oral contraceptives (whether they should be free or merely subsidized like other drugs is not central) as a part of health care – and as part of a universal standard of care – is compelling, in my view. The same goes for mental health drugs, howevermuch the Scientologists and others might see it differently. I bring up again that contraceptives serve purposes other than the prevention of pregnancy. Maybe the courts will disagree.

              Just as I am trying not to base my view on this subject on how much I do or do not like the Catholic Church, I am also trying to separate my views on the Obama Administration. I’m not going to oppose this on the basis of the president that put it into law. It does make me look at FOCA differently, but that’s for the FOCA discussion – if it ever gets renewed and I suspect this makes it less likely that it will – and my decision in November.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I don’t think we’re using “compelling” univocally, WillT.  It’s more than a feeling.

                Your associated argument, that there’s a compelling interest in having a comprehensive policy, borders on the tautological, I believe, since either Policy A or B would fill your need.

                There is a difference between an argument you agree with and a valid argument.  I’d rather take a shot on the validity of medicating the mentally ill as a valid argument, regardless of my personal agreement with it.

                You have not attempted free oral conception as a compelling state interest, nor do I expect you or anyone else to try, because it’s a loser.  But that’s precisely what we need to prove to override the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1995.

                The bishops only need a valid argument for religious liberty and the First Amendment to apply.  And they have one.

                As for Obama, this open warfare against religious freedom has crossed the line.  The American Catholic bishops have generally been friendly to Democrat-left-social gospel initiatives.  I do hope that Obama has screwed the pooch with this one in the eyes of the Catholic electorate, because I think he’s screwed the pooch in the eyes of the Constitution.

                This is the first time in the history of the United States that a presidential administration has purposely tried to interfere in the internal working of the Catholic Church, playing one group off against another for political gain.  What isn’t always understood is that the Bishops of the Church make no attempt to speak for all Catholics; they never have.  The Bishops speak for the Catholic and apostolic faith, and those who hold that faith gather around them.  Others disperse.—Francis Cardinal George

                The Catholic vote in America has been up for grabs between the two parties, so much so that who wins the Catholic vote has won the presidency in recent elections.  Obama and the Dems had the bishops’ neutrality and even occasional support.  I hope that has ended, because this has laid bare the their opinion of the Church’s place in the public square of American life.

                Out.  Well, we’ll see.


              • Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

                I admittedly run in pretty liberal Catholic circles, but the Catholics I know have been some of the most passionately supportive of Obama’s policies.  No one is more peeved at the magisterium’s refusal to join the 20th century than the 98% of Catholics that use birth control.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Don’t look now, but the CHURCH is already paying for Family Court judges to decide divorces. Divorces that are not what the church teaches is moral.Report

            • Avatar b-psycho says:

              Tom, re: this:

              Religious institutions are not trying to control what their employees buy, use, or do in private; they are trying to avoid being conscripted by the government into paying for what they teach are immoral acts.

              I get why they would see it that way. I even wish this principle could be applied further. Paying for war, for example.  Or for enforcement of drug laws.  Or…

              (I’m being sincere with this)Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Mr. Psycho, such individual exemptions aren’t being argued, for Domino’s Pizza or Bob’s Catholic Car Wash.  Complete red herrings.

                Force Quakers to take part in a war and you have a problem.  Even non-pacifists [many or most, anyway] are good with such exemptions.  I am, anyway.  Completely in harmony with the spirit and letter of the First Amendment.

                In this issue, we have the Catholic Church being coerced into directly financing contraception, which it finds immoral.  This isn’t the same as the individual Catholic paying taxes, a part of which goes to Planned Parenthood for free contraceptives, or free contraceptives paid for by the government—which is what Obama should have done, instead of this.



              • Avatar Sam says:

                They aren’t directly financing contraception. They’re paying for health insurance. If an employee happens to be prescribed contraception, the insurance that the church paid for is paying for it. The Catholic Church isn’t being forced to write a check to a pharmaceutical company.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Actually, Sam, the church entities are buying contraceptives directly, if self-insured, and many are.  Reboot.


              • Avatar Sam says:

                So drop the self-insurance. Problem solved.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Mr. Psycho, such individual exemptions aren’t being argued, for Domino’s Pizza or Bob’s Catholic Car Wash. Complete red herrings.

                Isn’t the church’s current position that nobody should have to abide by the mandate if it conflicts with their conscience? That wasn’t their original position, but I believe that is the position they shifted to.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I don’t believe that was the Church’s position at any time, Will.  If it was, it’s unsustainable.  The sustainable argument is that the Obama admin is violating the First Amendment with this:  You have the actual Church being coerced by the state into immorality [as the Church sees it].

                That people don’t know that separation of church and state is a door that has always swung both ways is a failure of our education system I suppose. It goes back 1000 years with the Investiture Controversies.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                First, we objected to the rule forcing private health plans — nationwide, by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen—to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion. All the other mandated “preventive services” prevent disease, and pregnancy is not a disease. Moreover, forcing plans to cover abortifacients violates existing federal conscience laws. Therefore, we called for the rescission of the mandate altogether.

                Second, we explained that the mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such “services” immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of “religious employers” that HHS proposed to exempt initially. (emphasis mine) –USCCB, 2/10/12Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                A distinction, Will: They’re speaking of individuals being forced to buy the coverage for themselves, not individual employers being forced to provide it.  No Domino’s or Bob’s Catholic Car wash in sight.

                But I don’t think it’s a sustainable objection even if I tend to agree with it, nor is it featured in the lion’s share of the bishops’ objections.


                As for the first paragraph and a half you were obliged to include, they represent the body of the USCCB’s argument, and it’s very cogent and powerful.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                OK, Will, I’ll modify that: they do mention “for religious and secular for-profit employers”  in that particular release.  The “secular for-profits” part will not fly.Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                Will –  you’re quite right:

                The bishops spent the past few weeks pressing President Barack Obama to exempt religious employers from a federal mandate that all health insurance plans offer free birth control.

                Obama agreed to modify the mandate a bit, so that religious employers wouldn’t have to pay for contraceptive coverage directly. That satisfied some Catholic groups, but the bishops were not mollified. They want the mandate repealed altogether.

                And now, they are aiming higher still, lobbying Congress to enact a law that would let any employer opt out of covering any medical treatment he disagreed with as a matter of his personal faith.                                                                         (Reuters)



              • Avatar b-psycho says:


                This isn’t the same as the individual Catholic paying taxes, a part of which goes to Planned Parenthood for free contraceptives, or free contraceptives paid for by the government—which is what Obama should have done, instead of this.

                So force only counts as force between institutions?Report

          • My ears were burning, so I came around.

            In any case, I basically agree with your second paragraph here. My position – at least as far as I’ve been willing to stake one out – is not that the state should mandate abortion coverage the way it has with contraceptives, but merely that, were it to do so, I think the arguments I (and others) have presented in favor of this mandate would apply equally.

            What Tom doesn’t seem to grok, and all this needless and inflammatory nonsense about “aggression” is probably not helping either, is that this wasn’t “rammed” down anyone’s throat. This was part of a law that was democratically enacted, it applies generally across all employer health care plans, and it is supported by a majority of people. I will grant that that, by itself, is not enough to override a Free Exercise objection, which is also why I think maintaining an exemption for employees of churches makes some sense. But for a functionally secular business enterprise? Yeah, it sure does.

            In any case, if a majority in the House, and a large majority in the Senate, passed a bill mandating employer coverage for abortion, and the president signed that bill, I just don’t see a constitutional issue. And, if that had happened, neither would very many other people, I suspect.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith says:

              This administration has already granted well over 1200 waivers regarding this “law that was democratically enacted”. This administration could have made it 1232 or more and granted a “pass” to the Catholic Church operating hospitals etc. Instead they opted to muddle some more with the constitution. Down below I’m going to tryy a different take on this and talk about it from an insurance company’s perspective. I seem to recall a brilliant interlocutor on these pages who actually writes insurance products, so I’d love to hear his views from that perspective.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              “This was part of a law that was democratically enacted, it applies generally across all employer health care plans, and it is supported by a majority of people.”

              Just like Proposition 8 was democratically enacted, applies generally across all persons in the State of California, and was supported by a majority of people.Report

  6. Avatar DensityDuck says:


    3) Eight/Twelve/Twenty-eight states already do this, so it’s only a big deal because people are making a phony show of it.


    2) In a pluralist society, numbers matter.


    Do numbers not matter, or do they matter?  I think that you don’t want to make a “numbers don’t matter, de facto is de jure” because “majority rules absolutely” isn’t a road I think you want to follow.  As I pointed out elsewhere, California’s Proposition 8 passed by a majority vote.


    “While I might question giving McDonald’s a hardship exemption and not the Catholic organizations, the latter is not being singled out here.” (emphasis added)

    If the concept of disparate impact has any validity, then it most certainly would apply here, where there is only one major religious organization in the United States that has a public stance against birth control.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Do numbers not matter, or do they matter? I think that you don’t want to make a “numbers don’t matter, de facto is de jure” because “majority rules absolutely” isn’t a road I think you want to follow. As I pointed out elsewhere, California’s Proposition 8 passed by a majority vote.

      I actually believe that Prop 8 should be upheld by the courts, but it’s not my decision to make. And I will confess I will shed no tears if it is invalidated.

      Numbers matter in the sense that you cannot set rule of law aside because 3% of Americans do not wish to comply and will resist compliance on moral grounds. But when it’s 33%, it’s an issue. However, because a minority or a bare majority do or wish to do something, does not mean that it is naturally going to be acceptable to everyone.

      If the concept of disparate impact has any validity, then it most certainly would apply here, where there is only one major religious organization in the United States that has a public stance against birth control.

      I consider disparate impact (without some sort of demonstration of intent) to be a problematic legal concept in the overall.Report

      • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

        Will, as a member of a less-than-three-percent religious minority, I actually find this line of argument terrifying.  It implies that, ultimately, Jewish religious liberty in America is not Constitutionally guaranteed, but rather depends entirely on the willingness of non-Jews to grant tolerance.  The population numbers game is rather disconcerting and has been the most troubling part of the whole mandate discussion for me.Report

        • I agree, which is why the correct way to view this (for my money) is to insist anyone show how the religious practice (you know, the “exercise of religion” part) of Catholics has been infringed upon here. It manifestly has not.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I hope you understand that our desire to get you to behave differently is based in pluralism and opposition to misogyny and not “anti-semitism”.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          I understand why it would be disturbing. On any given issue, however, there aren’t many issues on which the Jewish stand alone.

          In addition to infringement, degree of infringement also matters.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            “On any given issue, however, there aren’t many issues on which the Jewish stand alone.”

            Which is, I’m sure, exactly what a lot of people in Poland thought right up until 1939 or so.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              “In addition to infringement, degree of infringement also matters.”

              Extermination would fall on the most severe end of infringement.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “What are you complaining about?  It’s not like we’re killing you.  Now get on the train.”Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                So is it your position that this is really one step removed from extermination? Putting them on the train to extermination? Am I getting this right?Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                My position is that you’re standing at the top of a slippery slope, and it’s a slope the world has slid down in the past, and there’s a big ol’ hole full of dead people at the bottom.

                I am not suggesting that this is the opening move in an anti-Catholic pogrom, but when you say things along the lines of “infringing on the rights of religious believers is okay as long as it’s not a serious infringement and everyone else thinks it’s fine”, then you need to be aware that the first thing you said is that infringing on the rights of religious believers is okay.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Thank you for the explanation. I wouldn’t say that it’s “okay” as much as “unavoidable.” The question, whether we’re looking at a small religion or a large one, is how much we choose to do so and under what circumstances. One factor in this is how mainstream the beliefs of the groups are. That’s why the 3%/33% thing matters.

                If we, as a culture, reject the notion that grown men can marry eight year olds, and there is a small sect that says it is okay, less accommodation need be made than if we live in a culture in which this is common, where more accommodations may have to be made if their minds cannot be changed.

                I am not unaware of slippery slopes. I wrote a separate post involving my concerns about where this particular decision will lead. It is not impossible that preventing members of a sect from marrying off eight year olds will lead to extermination, but I cannot always make the decision on the first based solely on the fear that it will lead to the second.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                ” The question, whether we’re looking at a small religion or a large one, is how much we choose to do so and under what circumstances.”

                But if we were talking about anything other than religion, we wouldn’t even be talking about this.  Disparate-impact laws don’t say “disparate impact is okay so long as it only affects a small percentage of the population”.  And I know that this is religion and not racism, but it still appears to be an intentional act to limit the behaviors of a minority population, and that’s something else that we as a society have decided needs to be done careful and for good reasons and only when there’s no alternative.

                And I agree that “no money for contraception” is something that has a disparate impact on women, but the initial solution was like trying to close a can of worms by putting it into a bigger can.

                And, in the end, the whole thing seems to have worked itself out.  Everyone agrees that the initial method was not the right one, and they’ve worked out another method that gets what everyone wants.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        So if 33% of your country disagreed with the draft, you’d be willing to let it slide?

        [n.b. this is done in Israel.]Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          The government did not get rid of the draft out of generosity.

          That being said, I’m not sure I understand the point of your question. My point is not that you have to get rid of a law opposed by 33% of the public. Merely that 33% of the public being against a law represents a potential problem.Report

  7. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    This isn’t about anything but contraception, which isn’t about anything but a misogynistic need to control women’s sexuality.

    This one’s a real head-scratcher. I can only assume that it’s being made exclusively by women, because, as any man who’s ever used a condom knows, oral contraceptives are awesome, because the primary alternative is condoms, which are decidedly not awesome. Much more so for men than for women, I gather. The idea that oral contraceptives are something whose benefits accrue overwhelmingly to women just seems bizarre to me.


    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Though I agree that, broadly speaking, reproduction and preventing such weighs more heavily on women than men, I also find odd the notion that such things only affect women.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      On a related note, the idea that Viagra is something that benefits men exclusively is equally absurd. I mean, unless you assume that women prefer to have impotent husbands because they hate sex.Report

  8. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    By the way, I haven’t heard much about vasectomies and/or tubal litigations. If I were a feminist I’d assume that they cover vasectomies but not tubal litigations, but I’m not, so I doubt they cover either. Does the new regulation not require this?Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      “They” being the Catholic hospitals’ insurance plans.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        “But the administration announced the compromise plan before it had figured out how to address one conspicuous point: Like most large employers, many religiously affiliated organizations choose to insure themselves rather than hire an outside company to assume the risk.

        Now, the organizations are trying to determine how to reconcile their objections to offering birth control on religious grounds with their role as insurers — or whether there can be any reconciliation at all. And the administration still cannot put the thorny issue to rest.

        “We’re all kind of waiting and seeing,” said Jim Liske, chief executive of the Prison Fellowship, a Christian charity that insures itself and objects to offering the morning-after pill to its employees.


  9. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Big respect on this post, Will.  I differ slightly on whether of few of the points are persuasive or unpersuasive, and I think a few important points aren’t here (though you aren’t claiming these are all the relevant considerations, merely that these are the ones that happened to influence your change in opinion), but that’s just because I’m me and you’re you.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Thanks. Anything unmentioned likely falls into the category of (a) not persuasive, (b) something I haven’t heard, or (c) something I didn’t understand the significance of. It’s been a long and winding conversation. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot. If you want to know what a particular line of argument is, I’ll respond as I can (I’m visiting family).Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I actually think Duck framed it well: analysis of the First Amendment claims was not here.  This could give the impression that you’re saying you’ve dealt with the issue without dealing with those claims, which wouldn’t be dealing with it in a complete way at all.  But you did deal with the 1A issue, just not in this post, because you make clear in this post you’re not detailing your full analysis of the whole issue, but rather saying what arguments did and didn’t eventuate the evolution of your opinion over the course of the debate. Rather, you made clear from the outset of your writing on this last week that you didn’t find the 1A claim ultimately persuasive (though you didn’t consider it unworthy of consideration and didn’t dismiss it without same).

        This is all if I have understood your arguments and adjustments correctly, and I might well not…Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          That’s pretty accurate.The arguments in favor of a waiver were left unexplored. I actually considered starting with what lead me to at least lean on the side of the church to begin with and work for there, but I was being mindful of length and will be addressing at least some of that in the future (and have addressed some of it over the past week)Report

  10. Avatar Sam says:


    The issue with pointing out that the Catholic Bishops both endorsed and encouraged the molestation of children for generations is simple: you don’t get to claim the moral high ground when you’ve done that. You don’t get to say, “Well I’m oh-so-pious and this offends my delicate religious sensibilities!” when those same religious sensibilities kept you quiet while children were being sexually attacked. There is no reason for anybody to take that group of elderly virgins seriously about anything, let alone a medication which they have no familiarity with.

    I understand the desire to argue about everything as if we’re in a classroom, as if we’re wearing the veil. It would be great if all conversations could be held this way. But how can it not matter, even a bit, than the men demanding recognition of their strong moral beliefs are the same men who consciously looked the other way when children were being attacked throughout the country?Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      This is a much better argument than the misogyny one.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Sam, pointing out the faults of the Catholic Church is fair game when someone is using the awesomeness of the RCC as a reason to back them here. Using the awesomeness of the RCC as a reason for the waiver would have been on my “unpersuasive” list going in the other direction, if I’d included it.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        I’d imagine it goes to the “proximate material support” argument. An institution that has such shattering moral failures have substantial more complicity in acts of evil than any act of providing contraception would do so. Given that the hierarchy of the church proper is the one responsible for many of the coverups and delay in providing restitution and justice, the very act of even listening to this hierarchy and giving them moral standing, to me shows a substantially greater support for evil than indirectly, possibly, maybe providing contraception coverage to a non-believer in an indirect fashion by giving them health insurance.Report

  11. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Will, while I might quibble around the edges of certain points, I want to stay away from that and just say that I thought this was a fantastic post because of what you’re doing here.  It’s not just admitting to changing your mind, but laying out the various arguments and explaining which ones you found persuasive and which you did not.   It’s a valuable service to all of us, to move us to think about what types of arguments we offer to our intellectual opponents.  (E.g., “It’s all about misogyny may be emotionally satisfying, but it won’t move anybody on an issue like this.)


    • Avatar Sam says:

      Well, except that this IS all about misogyny. Why are we forced to pretend as if this is some principled moral position we’re seeing here and not the church insisting, for the millionth time in their long history, that women should be nothing more than subordinates subject to the church’s directives on, in this case, health care?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        You believe it’s all about misogyny.  Not everyone who is a reasonable person agrees with you on that. So the question is, are you going to spend your effort focusing on a point those reasonable people don’t accept, or are you going to try to find a point that might actually move them?

        Do you prefer to engage in an emotionally satisfying but endless shouting match, or do you want to find a way to actually persuade your opponent to agree with you on the outcome, even if they don’t agree with you on every aspect of the issue?

        You don’t have to pretend a damn thing; you just have to decide what your goal is; whether it’s to seriously try to bring people to your side or to get a raging intellectual hardon? The latter can be fun, of course, and we all do it.  That’s fine, as far as it goes, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking it will have any other effect than that.


        • Avatar Sam says:


          I question the reasonableness of any person who believes that the Catholic Church isn’t a misogynistic organization. What more evidence do you need than the lack of women in the church’s hierarchy? (I suppose you could look at its opposition to women voting. Or its opposition to divorce.)

          Or, to put that another way, can you please point me toward the medications prescribed only to men that the church has absolutely freaked out about having to pay for?

          And frankly, you are asking us to pretend if you’re asking us to ignore the church’s treatment of women. How can that history simply not matter?Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            C’mon Sam, your prejudices are showing.  How many organizations were against women’s suffrage in 1906?  Is an organization, itself, misogynistic if it lives inside a misogynistic society?  You can level lots of accurate accusations against the Catholic church during its lifetime, but as an organization it’s outlasted almost everything else that was around when it started until today – if you take historical context out of it you can condemn it for the perfectly average behavior priests exhibited in 1106 that would be regarded as barbarous today.

            Realize that “contraception” isn’t just the pill.  The RCC doesn’t pay for condoms either.Report

            • To be somewhat fair to Sam, the RCC is explicitly misogynist. Unless you’ve seen any female priests around lately.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                You don’t see any male nuns, either.

                Ryan, this is one case where I’m perfectly willing to admit that I think the theology is stretched.  But the Catholic church has for quite some time now engaged in a long, ongoing, substantive internal dialogue between the male and female members of its congregation and clergy about the differences between men and women.

                They do not see men and women as the same.  Indeed, a couple of our female commentors who have driven by operate by the same principle, saying that men have no business talking about women’s health.  How can that be unless we are substantively different?

                There is a difference between have sex based roles, and having sex based roles with differentials in power expression, and misogyny -> misogyny is a very explicit charge: “misogyny is a cultural attitude of hatred for females because they are female”.

                For a long time, I’ll agree, the Church pursued a social agenda that seeked to keep a woman in a particular role in greater society that was unjust.  This partially comes from their obsession with natural law, and partially with the fact that the Church is itself a social organization that lived in times when the greater society was itself unjust.

                Now, you can argue that the men in the RCC make the women be nuns instead of priests because they hate them, but you’d have to know a lot more Catholic theology and a lot more about the modern incarnation of both the priesthood and the nunnery than I expect most people have.

                Better to just say they’re unnecessarily hidebound.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                There are plenty of male nuns: they’re called monks.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Wow, did you just illustrate a woeful misunderstanding of the clergy in the Catholic church.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Pat, why aren’t monks analogous to nuns?  Is it because they’re priests who have just chosen the monastic life, so they can do all the ceremonial things priests can do, that nuns as women can’t?  I’m a proddie by background, so I really don’t know, but am curious.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Too long to sum up in a combox.

                Maybe I’ll write a series of posts about it, if I ever get around to finishing the other two I have languishing.

                Just from an organizational science standpoint, the Catholic church is fascinating.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                You’re saying there’s no comparison of the two whatsoever?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Comparison of the two what?  Are we comparing nuns to monks, or nuns and monks to priests, or deacons to nuns and monks and priests?  Acolytes?

                The Catholic hierarchy is labyrinthine (and, one can easily make the argument that this is both stupid and a historical artifact of the-mentioned-elsewhere-on-this-thread-mix-between-State-and-Church) and the differences between the offices are both in kind and in mission.

                You can be a monk and a priest, or you can be a lay brother (you’ve sworn oaths, but you have not been ordained).  You can be a nun, or a sister, or a cloistered nun.  Nuns and monks take similar vows, but so do monks and priests and monks aren’t priests (necessarily)… nor are monks male nuns or nuns female monks.  You can be a Jesuit brother, but you’re neither a priest or a monk, really.

                Like I said, it’s a big subject.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Big subject or not, they share some significant overlap and are at least in the same ballpark with one another, aren’t they? You made it sound as if monks and nuns have absolutely nothing in common with another when you accused me of possessing a “woeful misunderstanding” of the clergy. How is my comparison of the two evidence of that?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                A reforming Pope could give the Catholic Church a new lease on relevance.   Look at the reforms of Gregory the Great.   Even the Orthodox revere Gregory, calling him the Dialogist.

                The Church changed so radically under Gregory the Great, everything before has to be taken in a different context.

                Gregory began by aggressively requiring his churchmen to seek out and relieve needy persons and reprimanded them if they did not. In a letter to a subordinate in Sicily he wrote: “I asked you most of all to take care of the poor. And if you knew of people in poverty, you should have pointed them out … I desire that you give the woman, Pateria, forty solidi for the children’s shoes and forty bushels of grain ….” Soon he was replacing administrators who would not cooperate with those who would and at the same time adding more in a build-up to a great plan that he had in mind.

                He understood that expenses must be matched by income. To pay for his increased expenses he liquidated the investment property and paid the expenses in cash according to a budget recorded in the polyptici. The churchmen were paid four times a year and also personally given a golden coin for their trouble.
                There’s a Pope whose agenda I could support.  The less-supportable agenda of Papal supremacy doesn’t arrive until Gregory VII and I don’t like the current Pope much for his agenda.   Give the Church an excellent Pope and it will turn on a dime.   Only the Pontiff has the power to do it, but it’s been done before.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                The way I read your comment (pardon if I misunderstood you) is this, inside this string of commentary:

                Ryan: “There are no female priests!”

                Me: “There is a difference between sex-based roles and misogyny.  Men and women have different roles in the RCC”

                Sam: “But there are male nuns, they’re called monks!” (me, following that line of thought and adding this for you)  “So men can do what women can do, but women can’t do what men can do.  That’s not only sexist, it’s active hatred of women!”

                Me: (thinking) “The role of a nun and the role of a monk are not the same, if Sam thinks that because there are monks men can be nuns, he doesn’t understand the difference between a monk and a nun.”

                Monks and nuns aren’t interchangeable.  Nuns and nuns aren’t interchangeable, if you’re making the mistake of conflating “every position a woman can have in the RCC” with “nun”.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Do monks and nuns have commonalities with one another? Or don’t they? My assumption is that they do. If this wrong – if there is simply nothing they share – my apologies. But if they do have overlap, then it would seem as though there are jobs within the church that men and women can have, and jobs within the church that only men can have, and that those positions are in management. If your organization is set up in such a way so that only one gender can move up the proverbial ladder to its highest rungs, it seems reasonable to believe that some imbalance is going on.

                For instance, suppose a church allowed white men to achieve priesthood, but not black men. Would that be objectionable? Or would that be completely reasonable?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Do monks and nuns have commonalities with one another? Or don’t they? My assumption is that they do. If this wrong – if there is simply nothing they share – my apologies. But if they do have overlap, then it would seem as though there are jobs within the church that men and women can have, and jobs within the church that only men can have, and that those positions are in management.

                Priests and nuns have commonalities with one another.  If this is your distinction, then women already have all the jobs within the church that men can have.

                Women have management jobs in the Church than men cannot have.  There are no male abbesses.  There is no male holding a position of “Mother superior”.

                In fact, (despite the common use of the male pronoun in the canon), there’s nothing in the rulebook that says that the Pope has to be a man.  The Papacy can be filled from the laity.  (Practically speaking, it’s more than passing unlikely that the Cardinals – who are all men – would pick a woman, but there’s nothing in particular in the rulebook that says that this must be so; the Pope doesn’t have to be elected from the Priesthood).

                For instance, suppose a church allowed white men to achieve priesthood, but not black men. Would that be objectionable? Or would that be completely reasonable?

                Under the Church’s own theological framework, this would be objectionable because the Church does not recognize a difference in nature between one man and another, any more than it recognizes a difference between one woman and another.

                There are some long-standing natural law distinctions between men and women.  Now, I’m not going to say that all those distinctions are correct (in fact, I personally reject most of them and that’s one of the reasons I’m not a practicing Catholic any more), but at the same time I hear lots and lots of women talking about celebrating their unique maternal role that no man can ever really understand (just for one example of many), so it’s not clear to my rejection is a universal position, or even that it is a popular one, and I certainly have enough people telling me that I’m incorrect and stupid and shouldn’t even be involved in the conversation, so what the hell do I know?

                I do find it odd that people on both sides are telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about for the same set of underlying reasons, when they come to opposite conclusions, though.  This leads me to believe that there is an alternative somewhere.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                The cardinals are all men. The priests are men. The Pope has always been a man. But because women can be Mother Superior and men can’t (even though they can become abbots [another role women cannot enjoy]), I’m supposed to assume what exactly?

                It seems to me from my reading that there are orders of female nuns and orders of male monks and that both have dedicated their life to the church and their religion and that both have leaders (although those leaders have different professional titles!) and…how are they not comparable again? The specifics of their prayers? The depth of their devotion?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Sam, I’m hard pressed to go to the work of doing any more of this work for you when I’m pretty convinced that any example I give is going to be dismissed with, “That’s a distinction without a difference.”

                So tell me what distinction you’d accept that has a difference that you’d regard as substantive.

                I suspect the only ones are, “Nuns can’t marry people in the Church, and they can’t give the Last Rites, and they can’t give communion” (which, isn’t an entirely accurate summary, but that’s yet another digression). Oh, and women can’t vote for the Pope.  Nothing else that women do isn’t something than a man could do, even if they don’t do it now.

                Is this a fair suspicion on my part or am I being prejudicial at this point?

                If that’s your distinction, then I concede the point.  Women cannot do everything that men can do.  But men can do everything else that women can do (even though this isn’t exactly correct, but hell, I’ll grant it any way).

                (I did mention that the RCC is sexist already, right?)

                If this leads you directly to “the Catholic Church actively hates women”… then when did the U.S. government stop actively hating women?  May 21, 1919?  June 4, 1919?   August 18, 1920? Did Mississippi hate women until 1984?

                Did the U.S. government hate women until Tennessee ratified, or did part of the U.S. government stop hating women earlier?  Does the U.S. government still hate women, and will they until one is elected President?  Will that be enough?Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                I would argue that any institution which says, “Women can’t do this just because!” or even worse, offers up tortured reasons for exclusion is an institution which hates women. Cue the term misogyny. Perhaps there’s another term? Dislikes? Disrespects? Disdains? Dismisses?

                I struggle to see how men who propose to make healthcare decisions for my mother or my wife or my daughter are men that respect my mother, my wife, or my daughter.

                You acknowledge that the church is sexist, something that I obviously agree with. I go farther. But my point in comparing monks to nuns was simply to say, where there are positions for women in the church there tend to be seemingly equivalent positions for men. Where there are positions for men in the church, there are rarely equivalent positions for women.


              • Better in what way? The Catholic Church willfully relegates women to a position of less power and prestige than men. That’s misogyny. A duck is a duck. That they don’t allow men to be nuns is actually not an argument against my position here. We can dance around it because we aren’t allowed to say mean things about people who sincerely hold abhorrent religious beliefs, but I’m not a good dancer.

                Where we may agree is that I don’t think the Catholic Church’s existence as a misogynist organization has much to do with the issue at hand, although I do think their opposition to birth control is founded on misogyny. Again, that’s not really apropos to this.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                The Catholic Church willfully relegates women to a position of less power and prestige than men.

                Ryan, are you Catholic?  ‘Cause I gotta tell you, there are still some nuns around who would smack you upside the head with a yardstick for saying that they have less power than the parish priest.  They’re a dying breed, but so is the rest of the clergy, really.

                Do you have any idea how Catholics measure “power” and “prestige” in their clergy?

                Is “different responsibilities” always equivalent to “less power”?  What is “power”, in the Roman Catholic Church?Report

              • Why is it my responsibility to use their definition of power? If I decide that my wife is not allowed to have a job, do you have to shut up because you don’t understand how power works in our house? That’s nonsense.

                To answer the important question here, I think forcing people to have different responsibilities based on gender is literally always a problem of power, and it always flows in one direction. Are there female bishops? Cardinals? Popes? Are you claiming that cardinals and the Pope don’t have more power than nuns too? We know which way power flows in the Catholic Church; I’m not sure why you’re so eager to play coy about it.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I don’t care what definition of power you’re using, I just want to know what it is.

                To answer the important question here, I think forcing people to have different responsibilities based on gender is literally always a problem of power, and it always flows in one direction.

                Who forces the women to bear the babies?  Or, to flip that around – who forces the men to not be the ones who bear the babies?

                Look, Ryan, I don’t entirely agree with this statement, but we’re probably close enough for most purposes, okay?  I think forcing people to have different responsibilities based upon any one criteria is pretty boneheaded.  People should have the responsibilities to which they are suited.  The Catholic church thinks that, too, it’s just that the Church and I have very, very different ideas about what constitutes “being suited” (I’ll again mention an obsession with natural law, here).

                Back before the Catholic church became a state religion, women were in many cases performing all the things that we would now associate with the priesthood, or the higher clergy.  Rome, Constantine, the political machinations of the proto-states and then the countries of Europe from 400 AD to 1800 had a profound and lasting (and largely bad) influence on Catholic hierarchy, structure, and theology.  If anyone wants a good argument for the separation of Church and State they should look to this history of the Catholic church: not because of all the mucking about the Church did with the State (although that happens too) but because of all the mucking about the Church does to itself when it is part of a State.  But that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation to have.

                It’s perfectly legit to say that the Church hierarchy forces roles on men (and women!  and hey, let’s not forget the gay people!) that are based upon 6th century social idiocy and Aristotle’s obsession with patriarchy.  But that’s not the same as misogyny.  Misogyny is saying, “We’re putting women in this box because we hate them”.Report

              • They don’t put women in those boxes because they respect them as equals.

                And you people (you and Jaybird and DD) are just obsessed with the idea that, when you say something is misogynist, it has to be because the people doing it are mailing down orders from their secret space station while petting their cat and sniggering sinisterly. The Catholic Church doesn’t believe women deserve jobs that are the equal of those men can have. There are no women in the College of Cardinals, no woman has ever been Pope – and there are rules explicitly forbidding women from doing these jobs. That just is the belief that women are not the equal of men, and it just is misogyny.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Ryan, it’s sexist, sure.  It’s not misogyny.  The difference between the two charges is somewhat notable.

                Words are not interchangeable.Report

              • Avatar Kimsie says:

                Reading the Haftorah is just as “big a deal” as reading the Torah. Right.

                Women in Kuwait voluntarily put on large covering robes, of a sort much more dramatic than what men wear. Right.

                It’s not mysogynist that Men can marry more than one woman, but woman cannot do the same.

                Ya, I know many mysogynist religions. Rightwing anything tends towards it.Report

              • I did a quick Google search to see if there is any evidence that feminists accept this distinction between sexism and misogyny as meaningful, found a NYT column by Kristof mansplaining the difference, and decided I already knew the answer.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                And you people (you and Jaybird and DD) are just obsessed with the idea that, when you say something is misogynist, it has to be because the people doing it are mailing down orders from their secret space station while petting their cat and sniggering sinisterly.

                Actually, I’m obsessed with the idea that non-intervention is not, at all, the equivalent of either forcing someone to do something or forcing them to not do something.

                I don’t really care about intentions as much as coercion.Report

              • I guess I suggest you read the exchange we had on this very post. Your argument was not what you now claim it was.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                What, the exchange where I said that I hoped your experiences would change your mind about automatically assuming good/bad intentions on the part of a person because they held a particular position?Report

              • Exactly. As I said at the time, this has nothing to do with intentions. I don’t care about those either.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Exactly. As I said at the time, this has nothing to do with intentions. I don’t care about those either.

                That may explain the other argument, because the difference between sexism and misogyny is all about intentions.

                I did a quick Google search to see if there is any evidence that feminists accept this distinction between sexism and misogyny as meaningful, found a NYT column by Kristof mansplaining the difference, and decided I already knew the answer.

                Next time just try looking the two words up in the dictionary, it will allow you to note the semantic difference without having to pollute yourself with Kristof.Report

              • Can you mansplain something to a man? Because somehow you just did it. Well done.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Mansplaining is preferable to womansplaining because it’s over faster and you don’t have to apologize at the end of it.

                AMIRITE FELLAS???Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Can you mansplain something to a man? Because somehow you just did it. Well done.

                This is pretty much how I felt about you and Sam trying to tell me what the Catholic church hierarchy is.  “No, dude, it’s totally not that!  It’s this!  And I know!”

                Just so’s you know.Report

              • Avatar Anne says:

                Really??!! you went there?  ; )Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Man, now I have to apologize.Report

              • Avatar Anne says:

                You are a “Gentleman” aren’t you?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                As I grow older, I find the quotation marks more and more necessary.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Patrick – is there anyway to write to you in public re: our discussion of the hierarchy? Not to argue. I think my email posts whenever I comment, if you have access to that.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Left a comment at your blog with my email address, Sam.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                P.S. -> notable among Christian denominations, the Catholics usually take a lot of guff from their brethren over the veneration of Mary, and the role she plays in Catholic theology.

                A good number of other Christian denominations give them sneers for this, theologically speaking.

                Does this make the Lutherans more misogynist than the Catholics?  But… they… have women priests!  Error!Report

              • It’s true. If we all just told our wives how much we love them, they wouldn’t need jobs.

                Jesus Christ (lord’s name taken in vain on purpose).Report

              • Also, remind me again what Catholics venerate Mary for.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Immaculate conception, Ryan, among other things.

                Which, I’ll note, is not the bearing of Jesus, which even the Catholic laity muck up.

                Mary was born without Original Sin.  This kind of makes her important, in the way the theology is structured.Report

              • Two sentences into your Wiki article:

                “The Blessed Virgin, because she is the Mother of God, is believed to hold a certain infinite dignity from the infinite good which is God.”


              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Ryan, if you expect two lines in a wiki article to make a complete case against theology, then I think we’re both probably tilting at windmills, here.Report

              • I suspect this entire line of thought, being completely tangential to the issue at hand, is not really worth pursuing.

                As I’ve said, I think the Catholic Church is misogynist (and manifestly so), and also that that fact has nothing at all to do with whether they should get an exemption from the contraceptive rule.

                If you want to insist that sexism and misogyny are different, and that misogyny requires active, snarling hatred of women, I’ll just agree to use the other term and we can all probably be happy enough.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                As the Catholic faith moved north into Europe and converted its rulers, it took away the equality of Saxon law which had provided for divorce, including laws against violence against women.  One beating was sufficient provocation for a woman taking everything in the house, including the children, back to her father’s house.   Thereafter she was eligible for remarriage.   Dowries were given to women.   Women went to war with men as well.

                All that was abolished by Catholicism, including their goddesses.   But it did give folks the Cult of Mary.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Ooh!  Can we blame Catholic stance on divorce in 650 AD on the Jews?  Paul was a Zealot before he was Paul!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Nah, let’s just stick with present times.   I give you two words:  William Donohue.    Let’s see you erect some defense for him, eh?

                This ought to be fun.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Oh, he’s a blowhard and he has something of a major persecution complex.

                The League isn’t run by the Church, and it has ~230K members.  Which I readily grant is an awful lot of blowhards with persecution complexes, but it’s somewhat less than the 78 millionish Catholics in the country.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Heh.   Sorta like that bit from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Planet, summing up Earth:  ‘Mostly harmless”.

                Except the Catholic League is not Mostly Harmless.   They’re not one whit better than the Taliban.

                Here are the facts:   throughout history, the Catholic Church has insinuated itself and its doctrines into politics and continues to do so to this day.   William Donohue isn’t some rogue element:  he is the voice of unreason, a mouthpiece for a politico-religious entity which has in all times and all places erected barriers to any sort of reforms which might treat women as equals.   These are sovereign, undeniable, historically proveable assertions.   American Catholics have largely rejected these doctrines, to their considerable credit.   As Islam is not the Taliban,  Catholicism is not the Catholic League.   It is high time the American Catholics stood up for the rights of man, and women, and gave the Pope the Middle Finger.   Missa est, ite.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I think the Pope deserves something more significant than the middle finger.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I think the absence of direct violence makes them a little bit less worse than the Taliban in a measurable way.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Taliban is a plural noun.   Back when the USSR was in Afghanistan and I was in Pakistan, working in Jalozai, the Taliban did a great deal of good, as do the Catholics today.    They weren’t overtly violent.   They had the respect of the people.  They punished some pretty awful crimes in the absence of any other authority.   I knew quite a few of these guys, taliban is just the Pashtun plural of the Arabic talib, a religious student.

                The parallel is very exact.   We hear all these dreadful things about the Taliban but they’re not united under any meaningful authority.   They’re not even from the same theological mindset:  some are Deobandi, a pretty draconian form of Islam, many others are mainline Sunni from the various madhhahib , the Hanbali especially.  There are some Sufi pietists among them, though some Taliban oppress Sufis.    The oppressors are mostly ignorant, uneducated gangs but many of them are not.   They have a vision of Islamic government and they’ll lash out at anyone’s imposition of secular law on them, that’s the sum of their united vision.

                Which takes us back to the Catholic League.   No different.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I don’t have many complaints with your clarification.  Classification adjusted accordingly.


              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Thanks.    Here’s another curious parallel with the Taliban:   how often have we seen religion harnessed by unscrupulous powers to the plow of political gain  in recent times?

                Let us stipulate to the honesty and uprightness of those whose moral proscriptions run contrary to the general mindset of the times.   The Abolitionists weren’t exclusively religious but many of them were.  Today, we would all consider slavery to be an abomination but it was not always so.   It took people whose convictions to their beliefs trumped society’s go-along and get-along Least Common Denominator to make those changes for the better.   Instead of making excuses for it, they stood up and were counted.

                The problem arises when such people are given actual political power.    Then the oppressed become the oppressor with dreary predictability.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                How often have we seen religion harnessed by unscrupulous powers to the plow of political gain  in recent times?

                Let’s not limit ourselves to recent times.  Jared Diamond oversimplifies in his books, but I agree with his premise that one of the reasons organized religion became organized is that it gave legitimacy to the state.  There’s a lot of codependency and coevolution going on there.


              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I’ve given Jared Diamond books for Christmas presents.   You don’t have to agree with all his predicates but his conclusions make sense.  It’s a uniquely insightful view of prehistory.

                The cool thing about Jared Diamond:  he doesn’t pretend to be an expert on any subjects except where he is one, heh.

                We’re always talking about the combustible mixture of Church and State but religion isn’t always a bad influence.    America’s unique approach to the Establishment Clause has given us an amazingly diverse range of religions, one or two of them established over here, depending on how you view the rise of LDS in its relationship to historical Christianity.   Problem is, the religious kooks are usually louder and better organized than the quiet faithful.


          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            I question the reasonableness of any person who believes that the Catholic Church isn’t a misogynistic organization.

            That’s not what’s in question here.  You moved the goalposts for argumentative convenience.

            can you please point me toward the medications prescribed only to men that the church has absolutely freaked out about having to pay for?

            This is a nonsense point, unless you can show that there are some medications for men that violate the church’s religious doctrine but that the church happily pays for.  If there was a male contraceptive pill, I think the church would oppose it, don’t you? I mean, we’re talking about an institution that opposes condoms. If a prescription was required for condoms, what do we think their response would be?

            So why isn’t there a corresponding medication, a male contraceptive pill?  Because it would be nearly worthless to the company making it–no woman in her right mind would trust a man who says he’s taking it, so men don’t have a tremendous incentive to take it; certainly nowhere near the incentive women have to take the pill.  And so the church hasn’t freaked out about something that doesn’t exist–that’s not strong evidence against them.  Heck, I’d say it’s a point in their favor–one of the few times they’ve acted with a modicum of rationality!

            you are asking us to pretend if you’re asking us to ignore the church’s treatment of women. How can that history simply not matter?

            Nothing of the sort.  I’m just asking you to decide whether your purpose is to get an emotional feel-good going as you rant against the misogynistic bastards, or whether your purpose is to bring people like Trumwill around to your side on the particular policy issue of requiring the Catholic church to cover contraceptives in their health care plans. If your purpose really is the latter, then there’s no strategic value in going on about misogyny.  If you both want to persuade others and get that emotional fee-good going, you’re fooling yourself about your prospects for success.


            • Avatar Sam says:

              -No goalposts have been moved. The simple fact that the Catholic Church is plainly a misogynistic organization was brought up, and then rejected by others who claimed that the argument is somehow emotional rather than factual.

              -The obvious example is Viagra. We’ve seen it dismissed elsewhere in this thread the idea that birth control is used for anything other than preventing pregnancy, so the church stands against its use even when preventing pregnancy isn’t the intended purpose of its consumption. (Imagine the celibate, single women taking contraception tor regulate endometriosis, for example.) If the church dismisses a medication entirely, despite its possible good uses, how can it pay for prescriptions for Viagra, since it will not always be used to promote procreative sex?

              -Finally, I’d argue that the only people fooling themselves are the ones pretending that the Catholic Church is operating in good faith here, whether they’re willfully burying their heads in the sand about the church’s misogyny or otherwise.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                No, on multiple counts, but to avoid going off into tangents I’ll just say this–you’re still failing to distinguish between two importantly separate issues, 1) how firmly you believe an argument is true, and 2) whether that argument has any strategic value in motivating people to join your side on a particular policy issue.

                I’m trying to focus on 2), while you’re going on and on about 1).

                That’s where you’re fooling yourself.  You seem to think that even though an argument failed to persuade the first time around, it will surely persuade this time around, because it’s so true.   All I can say is good luck making that work.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:


                I believe the fact that the Catholic Church hates women has strategic value. I believe the fact that you dismiss even the possibility of this being true indicates the degree to which you misunderstand the problem. Just because an argument isn’t convincing to you personally doesn’t mean it cannot be convincing to others. I’m frankly baffled that you’re willing to accept the Church’s utterly nonsensical line on this.


              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m frankly baffled that you’re willing to accept the Church’s utterly nonsensical line on this.

                I’m trying to think of a plausible explanation that isn’t “he hates women even more than the Catholic Church” and failing.Report

      • While I basically agree with Sam pretty much all the way, I’ve tried not to make the argument because it’s rarely productive to point out when people are being misogynists. I admit that sometimes my frustration boils over, though, and I just say what I think.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:


          Precisely.  It’s not productive in debate.  Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place to say it.Report

          • Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

            It’s plenty productive in a debate if you’re engaging in good faith.  An accusation of misogyny (/racism/homophobia/what have you) is, at least when done right (and not saying the above was done right), an invitation to examine how privilege can influence one’s political positions.  Those who are sincerely interested in being an ally to marginalized people will take it in that spirit and at least consider whether their social position has influenced their thinking.   Those who do not care will shout down these substantive objections as unproductive to the debate, or obfuscate by claiming that none can see into the hearts of man.

            Accusations of bigotry are very often unjustified when initially leveled, and fully vindicated by the response of the one being accused.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:


              That’s great if misogyny is the relevant issue.  But for persuading someone who thinks the church gets some consideration on a particular policy based on freedom of religion grounds, it’s not a particularly relevant issue.  And no matter whether Sam or anyone else argues until they’re blue in the fact that it is the relevant issue, as long as their opponents don’t see it as relevant, it will in fact be irrelevant for the purpose of persuading them on this particular policy issue.


              • Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

                Privilege has certainly come up in the course of the debate, in the context of freedom of religion grounds. Key to at least some of the posters’ jurisprudence in this area is what constitutes a compelling government interest.  I’ve largely stayed out of such discussions because I have not, nor do I have time to, examine the relevant cases to determine exactly what a “compelling government interest” is. What I do know is that the women I know that have responded to this have, on the whole, been significantly more vociferous in their position on the matter than I would expect them to be on a quick gut check.  Knowing my particular blind spots, it makes perfect sense to me that my instinctual reaction is slightly out of whack- that the issue of contraceptive access for women is significantly more important than my gut says it is.  This is not to say that it definitely rises to the level of a compelling government interest sufficient to override first amendment concerns, but it is a bias I have to correct for.  In my opinion, asking that opponents of the law correct for a similar bias is a worthy addition to the discourse.

                If my opponents thought that my particular concerns were relevant, they wouldn’t be my opponents.  Bringing up misogyny is no different than, say, TVD arguing for a first amendment jurisprudence that many of his interlocutors disagree with.  If I adopted TVD’s jurisprudence I would agree with him on this issue.  That I do not agree with him doesn’t shut off conversation, but rather means that TVD needs to try to convince me of his reading of the first amendment.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          The problem with jumping to misogyny is that there are plenty of ways to assume bad faith.

          Oh, you support “birth control” for “poor people”. Shall we look at a demographics chart? Oh. *THAT* is probably why you want “poor people” to have “fewer children”.

          Well played.Report

    • Avatar Sam says:

      I want to clarify: do you believe that the Catholic Church views men and women as equals?Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        You’re going to have to define the word “equal”.Report

        • Avatar Sam says:

          I’d like to see how people answer the question without me specifically limiting debate to what I’d consider equality to be. For instance, Jason above essentially said that the church would repress men if men were like women. That isn’t equality to me, but I want to know what’s out there.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            They do repress men.   For all their cheap talk about forgiveness and the efficacy of confession, the weakness of the flesh and all that abracadabra, Catholic men are told masturbation is a sin.    The priesthood must be celibate (though a cursory reading of the apostles and historical popes might prove contrary to this doctrine) and homosexuals are going to hell.

            Seems oppressive enough to me.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:


              … so masturbators are going to hell?

              catholic doctrine in America equates homosexuality with masturbation. equal sin.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                By my reading, Catholics are getting progressively more fuzzy on Hell, just like Limbo.

                Sin, that they got squared.  Sin they’ll call out; they have more categories of sin than you can shake a stick at.  What happens when you die not in a state of grace, that’s getting to be a trickier question.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                “By my reading, Catholics are getting progressively more fuzzy on Hell, just like Limbo.”

                Pat, that would be the commie-Catholics! Mostly fished up Jesuits. The Church would do well to enjoy another schism and get rid of these commies and re-embrace orthodoxy like the Greek, Syrian, Russian, etc. Orthodoxers!Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I dunno, Bob.

                Metaphysically speaking, I’m a little bit more comfortable with a theology that focuses more on “what is bad” and much less on “what God’s gonna do to you if you do those bad things.”

                I think the first one is arguably effable.  I think the second one is pretty much (by admission for most theologies) ineffable… and kinda presumptuous and the sort of thing that will get you in trouble with The Big Kahuna (provided He’s there, of course).Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Chokin’ one’s chicken has always been verboten!Report

              • Not to mention chokin’ some other dude’s chicken.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                OMG, yes!Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “masturbators are going to hell?”

                Well, ev-ry sperrrrm is saaaaa-creeeeed…Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              If we could somehow reach a point where oppression consisted solely of stuff that would happen to folks after they died, I would consider that a victory.


          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            “I’d like to see how people answer the question without me specifically limiting debate to what I’d consider equality to be.”


            And since you won’t define what you meant by “equal”, you can’t tell me that I’m wrong.Report

  12. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Shouldn’t that read “They will probably, eventually, be able to put employees on the exchanges”?  The exchanges aren’t required to be open before Jan 1, 2014, so there’s still most of two years before this option is available.  And as a large employer, if the RCC doesn’t offer health insurance, they’ll be required to make per-employee contributions into the funding of the plans offered on the exchanges, all of which include the contraceptive care to which they object.  Not to mention that one of the two major political parties will almost certainly include a plank in its platform calling for the repeal of such exchanges; depending on the election outcomes, the exchanges may never come to pass.Report

  13. I had a friend whose stepfather explicitly advocated making abortion more widely available because it would keep “the blacks” from reproducing. It was vile, but it didn’t really change my position on abortion much.

    As to your larger point, you’re mostly right. But that’s why you look at context. Someone who is usually a social conservative who opposes women having control over their own health is not-implausibly holding that position because of misogyny. Someone who is usually an economic liberal is probably not in favor of poor people having fewer children because he hates black people.

    Also, this comes around a little to points I’ve made in the past about how I don’t think you have to be consciously, mustache-twirlingly sinister to hold position on things that are kind of ugly when you stop to look at just what the hell you’re saying. I don’t love capital-F Feminists in general, but having known a lot of them I’ve gained an appreciation for the five thousand things I do all the time that seem okay to me and are just incredibly awful for them.Report

  14. Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

    I can’t disagree with point 2 of the persuasive side enough.  The essence of pluralism is precisely that demographic weight does not bear on legal privileges or rights.  Religious freedom is the right of the unpopular minority no less so than the mainstream faiths.  A principled, consistent, and vibrant commitment to religious pluralism cannot allow its decisions to be influenced by dint of demographic weight.  What’s just for the majority is just for the minority.Report

  15. Avatar greginak says:

    Could one of the people who see the position of the RCC as correct and the O admin as wrong explain how far they see the it acceptable to give religions the ability to be exempt from generally applicable laws. I’ve seen some hand waving about nobody is saying it would be okay to not insure people in mixed marriages but i haven’t seen how we determine, from the anti-mandate peeps, what laws religious groups have to follow.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:


      I would rise to the challenge, except a similar challenge was posed on that other thread and remains unanswered.  That is, for those who think the church is wrong and the Obama administration right, how far do you see it as acceptable to not give religions the ability to be exempt from generally applicable laws.  Can Catholic hospitals be required to do abortions or euthanasia? No hand-waving, of course, about how obviously you wouldn’t go that far.   We need to be able to determine, from the pro-mandate peeps, what laws you would exempt religious groups from. 😉

      (This isn’t meant as a nasty challenge, just to note that a) “our” side posed it first, and b) if your side has trouble coming up with clear standards, then you should hesitate to knock our side if we have trouble coming up with clear standards.)Report

      • I wrote an entire post about this, you realize. Short version: a hospital isn’t a church. I’ll never make you perform an abortion in your church. If the majority thinks hospitals should have to perform abortions, then hospitals should have to perform abortions.

        Unless my reading comprehension has gone right out the window, there are no First Amendment protections for hospitals or medicine.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          If the majority thinks Chipotle should serve hamburgers, should it?Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            Those would be some damn tasty burgers.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            By law or by market forces?

            The actual mechanisms for interacting with your health insurance provider and a fastfood chain are quite different. Even if, in theory they’ll be more similar as the health care exchanges are set up.Report

          • Yawn. Try again.

            EDIT: Actually, I apologize, Jason. I misstated my position and you whacked at the right spot. What I mean is that, if the majority thinks health care coverage should pay for abortions, I support that. I don’t know that I support forcing hospitals to provide any particular services if they don’t want to.

            I’m sorry for being an ass.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              I don’t know that I support forcing hospitals to provide any particular services if they don’t want to.

              Please allow me to push a little harder, Ryan.  Whether you support the law of general applicability is not the question.  Assume you vigorously opposed the law, but it passed anyway.  Would you say Sacred Heart Hospita* should be denied an exemption from that rule?


              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Hey, if Trumwill’s wife didn’t want to deal with ingrown toenails, she shouldn’t have become a podiatrist.Report

              • Well, as I said below, I think forcing individuals to do specific acts they don’t want to do is extremely constitutionally problematic. If a law passed that required a person to perform an act he or she considers morally problematic, I would find it prima facie not enforceable.

                (Although I can see some places – like the JP/same-sex marriage thing I mentioned – where such mandates would be enforceable.)Report

        • Here, we can even illustrate this a bit:

          I think same-sex marriage should be legal across the land. I think Justices of the Peace, even if they’re Catholic, should be required to perform same-sex marriages. I do not, however, believe Catholic churches – or any others – should be forced to conduct ceremonies.

          See how that works?

          (I even think Catholic hospitals should be forced to recognize same-sex marriages for purposes of next-of-kin kinds of issues!)Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            If someone is a Justice of the Peace, they have an obligation to fulfill the duties of that office.  If their interpretation of Catholicism forbids them from exercising all of the duties of that office, then they should resign from their position (or, be jettisoned if necessary).

            The Justice of the Peace, however, is an explicit Governmental Office, so this limits the analogy.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:


          I was then, and remain, unpersuaded that a hospital run by a church doesn’t have some churchly protections. Your reading comprehension is fine, I think, but this isn’t solely an issue about case law.  We–most of us–like to argue case law when it suits our position, and conveniently forget that we–like everyone else–argue against case law when it doesn’t.  In short, when a religious organization says, “our faith tells us to do good works, so we are going to do some good works,” and the government says, “if you follow your faith and do good works, we will require that you violate your faith,” I think it’s legitimate to defend the religious organization on First Amendment grounds, even if the Supreme Court has never made such a ruling.

          And while I appreciate your clear line–that they should have to perform abortions if that is mandated–because you don’t shy away from it, I find it an awful line.  It’s a line that puts majority rule on a plane that is wholly superior to, and untouchable by, individual conscience.  A line that seeks to allow constitutional rights only so far as they are convenient to the goals of the majority. (I actually hope that’s an unfair overstatement, but your “if the majority thinks” line seems to go that direction.)

          You’ve defined a line that creates a world whose implications bother me far more than a world where some women have to pay for contraceptives out-of-pocket.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            It strikes me as a war between two religious faiths.

            It’s just that one side has plausible deniability that their “faith” is “religious”.Report

          • NB: I have clarified my position. I don’t support making people do things they don’t want to do (generally speaking), but I’m less concerned about making people pay other people who do want to do those things. I would certainly never take the position that Mr. Truman’s wife should have to, herself, perform an abortion she doesn’t want to perform. That’s just slavery.

            As for the first part, you of all people know that rights are an individual matter. I will do my very best to protect the rights of individuals to exercise their faith however that works for them. But the Catholic faith doesn’t call organizations to do good works; it calls individuals. And the First Amendment doesn’t protect the rights of organizations to freely exercise religions – organizations aren’t people; they can’t even have religions. If it is the position of individuals that they are called by their faith to build or run a hospital, then the consequence of that is that they have to build or run the kind of hospital the American people want.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              ” I don’t support making people do things they don’t want to do (generally speaking), but I’m less concerned about making people pay other people who do want to do those things.”

              Would you support a requirement that all providers include a tax-free Healthcare Spending Account which the insured person could use for whatever services they liked, such as birth control?Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        There’s a considerable difference between placing regulatory standards on a voluntary practice (providing health insurance coverage) and mandating the actual execution (pardon the term) of actions. That is to say, there’s no law that actually says catholic institutions must provide health insurance coverage, just that if they wish to have the privileged tax status that comes with doing so, they have to provide a minimum standard of coverage. (This is of course moot, as now all health insurance can hypothetically cover contraception, an thus this is no longer a requirement on the part of the institutions)Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          if they wish to have the privileged tax status that comes with doing so, they have to provide a minimum standard of coverage.

          But you’ve avoided the issue as it is seen by the party claiming injury, that in order to have the privileged tax status that all other non-profit organizations enjoy they must violate their most deeply held principals of religious belief.

          Not that you’re doing this purposely, but to say that “all we’re doing is to require a minimum standard,” is to obscure that in fact that’s not all that is being done; that doing so has other effects on some party that–even if ultimately that party’s interests are over-ridden–cannot be casually assumed away.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            The privilege isn’t for non-profit organizations. It’s for all large employers with more than 50 employees. If for some reason you have an objection with meeting the standards set by the health insurance requirements, then you pay the taxes.

            No one’s talking about taking away the tax exempt status of Catholic institutions. We’re talking about a tax structure that favors employers providing health insurance. It’s setting a standard.

            If their belief is that sacred, they can figure out ways to comply. No doubt many people have problems paying taxes into a system that judicially murders people, incarcerates a large number of people unfairly and drops bombs, but I don’t see the same clamoring for freedom of conscience for these folks.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “there’s no law that actually says catholic institutions must provide health insurance coverage, just that if they wish to have the privileged tax status that comes with doing so, they have to provide a minimum standard of coverage.”

          There’s no law that actually says black people must be denied the right to vote, just that if they wish to have the privileged status that comes with taking part in the democratic process, they have to provide a minimum standard of income and education.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I wasn’t actually trying to knock “your” side James, just trying to see where that line of thought is going. I don’t think religious groups should be exempt from laws in general. They shouldn’t be forced to do actually do an act they find offensive, like abortion. However offering insurance is different then actually doing an act.

        Health care should be between a patient and doc. I don’t see an employer dictating what the doc can prescribe as reasonable or the employers business. I’m more then happy for churches to have a public option for HC so they don’t have to even be involved in paying for insurance that an employee might use for a behaviour the church doesn’t want their employees to use.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          offering insurance is different then actually doing an act.

          Offering to pay you to kill my mother for the inheritance isn’t actually doing the act, either, but I remain morally culpable.  And for the church, that is the issue.  Paying to block God’s will that this sperm and egg should unite creates moral culpability.

          I think it might be possible to overcome that interest–at least I think I could possibly be persuaded that it must give way to a superior interest–but I reject as simplistic those who argue that it’s not a real interest worthy of consideration.


          • If you buy someone a gun and they use it to shoot your mother, that doesn’t make you a murderer.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              If you knew that’s what their purpose was, it sure as hell would make you a murderer.  And that’s the problem with contraception–regardless of its beneficial effects,* it does necessarily keep the sperm and egg apart.  The Church can’t not know what the outcome will be.

              And that’s one of the reasons Viagra doesn’t work as a counter-example relating to men.  Sure, it can be used to have sex with a condom on, but it won’t always and inevitably cause that outcome, and it can be used for legitimate (as the church defines that) purposes.

              *And those beneficial effects are a big reason why I don’t flatly reject over-riding the church’s interests here.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                If you buy someone a car, and they use it as a tool to run over your mother, that doesn’t make you a murderer. Even if you knew that there was a possibility the car could be used for vehicular homicide, the purpose of the car is much broader than that.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Again, Nob, if you know that person has an intent to use the car for that purpose, then you are culpable.Report

              • Do Catholic Church-run hospitals know that their employees are going to use their health care coverage to buy contraception? Furthermore, do they know that all of them are going to do this, or just some? Is there a poll they take?

                I mean, since 98% of Catholic women use it, I guess it’s somewhat safe to predict they’ll all buy it, but still. You act like “giving people money” implies knowledge of what they’re going to use it for as some kind of tautological relationship.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “Do Catholic Church-run hospitals know that their employees are going to use their health care coverage to buy contraception?”

                Well, considering that they have to know what services were provided in order to reimburse the provider, I’d think the answer would be obvious.

                Although, again, if they just paid into an HSA, then that would be, as it were, agnostic about how the money was spent.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                So if you pay them with the knowledge that they’ll buy condoms with their pay, you’re morally culpable as well?

                The Church argues that this isn’t the case, just the case when you pay for health insurance coverage.

                This strikes me as utterly absurd and illogical. YMMV.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Some people use condoms for reasons other than sex.

                Water balloons, for example.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                So if it’s difficult to draw a bright clear line, then we must accept all cases as being identical?

                This strikes me as utterly absurd and illogical.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                My point is more: The moment you compensate people who don’t belong to your religious denomination or don’t live life according to certain principles, it’s likely you’re going to be subsidizing a lifestyle that doesn’t fit in accordance with your religion.

                If the matter is about religious principles, then the hiring practices of the institutions should reflect this.

                That they don’t, and they demand instead that the state allow them to pick and choose how their employees use their compensation, strikes me as problematic.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                Yes, that is problematic.  It doesn’t mean all those things fall into the same category.  For the Catholic church,knowingly  funding contraception is substantively different than suspecting that you’re funding subscriptions to Penthouse.

                And I want to re-emphasize a point I have made several times that everyone seems comfortable overlooking–we don’t necessarily have standing to make decisions about what they should find legitimate, regardless of who the we and they are.  I’m not Catholic, I’m not even religious, but I find all the efforts by us non-Catholic and non-religous folks to determine what level of involvement the Catholic church should be comfortable with to be the worst kind of hubristic condescension.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                I don’t think it’s necessarily hubristic condescension when we’re talking about employees of these institutions who are not Catholic.

                The fact of the matter is, they’re perfectly fine telling what a Jewish, Protestant or Atheist do with their university paycheck and health insurance. In which case, I think we’re perfectly within our rights to ask: “Why the hell are you hiring people not of your religious affiliation then?” and…”If you’re that opposed, give them more money and let them buy their own health insurance, and accept the tax penalty for doing so”.Report

              • To some extent, we have to make that judgment. Again, how far would we let a Christian Scientist employer go?

                This is why I’ve tried to create a distinction that separates religious practice from non-religious activities undertaken by religious people. I am willing to admit that this difference is subtle, but we have to draw some kind of line in order to do any number of things with policy.

                That said, I’m not at all interested in telling Catholics they’re wrong about their own beliefs. I trust them when they say they think the health care coverage is more problematic than cash. I think that position is crazy, and I’m willing to argue against it (which I’ve done), but they have every right to believe it. What they don’t have the right to do is get religious exemptions for practices that are part and parcel of conducting business outside of a religious environment.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I don’t think it’s necessarily hubristic condescension when we’re talking about employees of these institutions who are not Catholic.

                I do.

                The fact of the matter is, they’re perfectly fine telling what a Jewish, Protestant or Atheist do with their university paycheck

                No, they’re not.

                I think we’re perfectly within our rights to ask: “Why the hell are you hiring people not of your religious affiliation then?”

                To which the answer might be A) “you all passed a law saying we had to, so how the hell do you question us about it now,” and/or B) “because those people are damn good doctors/teachers and our religious mission is not to hire people only of our faith, but to provide damned good health care/education.”Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                James, at that point they’ve already made a value judgment that any substantive “evil” done by those non-believers are in fact outweighed by the good that they’re doing in the process. In which case, the question becomes: What makes contraception coverage in health insurance that much more different?

                Also, the employee code of conduct thing is perfectly valid and evidently legal. BYU does it. Why can’t Notre Dame or Georgetown?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I’ve tried to create a distinction that separates religious practice from non-religious activities undertaken by religious people.

                On what basis do you decide for Catholics that providing health care is not part of their religious activities?  They did not go into providing health care for the business of making profits (and this is why I’m very irritated that you keep dodging the question of how church hospitals are distinct from for-profit businesses), so why did they go into providing health care?  Dig into the answer, and I think you’ll find there’s some very substantial relationship to their religious ideals and mission.  Simply put, the “religious/non-religious” distinction you want to make is convenient for your position, but it’s not necessarily a distinction that the church itself would make.  And if their vision of their medical work has a hefty religious component, who are we to tell them it really doesn’t?

                Again, I think it’s at least theoretically possible to over-ride that interest, since it is necessarily a bit weaker than if we’re talking about the church itself.  But I think it’s wildly wrong to pretend there’s a clear-cut religious/not-religious distinction there.  I think it’s a fundamentally flawed argument.

                Now if we were talking about the Catholic Church’s for-profit, “Mary’s Holy Hotdog Stand,” then I would agree with you that there’s no religious component demanding consideration.  At that point the separation is total because of the for-profit status of the operation.  But you seem intent on insisting that there’s no middle ground between church and business that requires somewhat less government interest than regulating the church directly, but somewhat less government interest than regulating a for-profit corporation.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                All right, employee codes of conduct.  You’ve got me there.  Still, both an employee code of conduct and an exemption from a government regulation can plausibly be defended on first amendment grounds.  In fact the employee code of conduct could theoretically be an exemption from government regulation.  So I don’t see it as a good analogy for why the religious institution can be constrained.Report

              • I’m not dodging the question; I just don’t think it’s terribly dispositive. I don’t disagree with you that the reason they got involved was because their faith called them to do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that running a hospital or a school is not a command of their faith. Helping people is. If you want to make a distinction that any time a Catholic anywhere is helping someone, they are immune to all laws of the United States, argue that position. But it’s obviously crazy. “Helping people” is not a specific act of religious practice. If you can show me where in Catholic doctrine ownership of a hospital is a sacrament, I will relent. I will also show you millions of Catholics who are failing at their own religion because they don’t own hospitals.

                I’m not sure why profit matters at all. What if their faith called them to open hospitals for money? What do you think is the proper limit where laws can affect people who profess to be practicing their religion? Does believing in God grant you complete immunity to the law so long as enough people agree with you?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                Not dispositive, informative.  As in, our understanding of the issue is informed in important ways by this, and so to ignore it is to approach the issue in a less informed manner.  Pardon my ugly insinuation, but it appears to me as though this is done because it’s more convenient to one’s position.  Not having a fixed position on the issue myself, I am conveniently free of any such counterclaim. 😉

                As to the profit issue, it matters because the concept of a church being religiously required to seek profit is not a meaningful hypothetical.  In the U.S., the government generally does not tell organizations whether they are religious ones or not, but one place where the line is draw–and to my knowledge has never seriously been questioned–is one’s profit v. non-profit tax status.  So even a clearly for-profit organization like the Scientologists have to officially be non-profit; and by so being, they are very nearly untouchable (in terms of the government stripping them of church status), unless they take certain actions that can be demonstrated in a court of law to be inconsistent with being a non-profit (which they probably have).

                To summarize, the profit/non-profit issue has been a fundamental distinction in religious definitions in America for a long time.  It’s quite standard.  So there’s really little requirement for me to demonstrate that it’s relevant, and the burden falls on you to demonstrate that despite that long-standing treatment the distinction doesn’t matter.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “if you pay them with the knowledge that they’ll buy condoms with their pay, you’re morally culpable as well?”

                It should be pointed out that this is the same argument made by people who claim that school vouchers constitute de facto government support of religion–because some people will use those vouchers for private religious schools.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Actually, James, my point was more that a Georgetown or a DePaul University (my undergrad alma matter) should probably be capable of asking its employees to sign a code of conduct pledge as a condition of employment, thereby (at least theoretically) negating the moral evil that comes from the health insurance benefit covering contraception. This may of course put them at a disadvantage in terms of attracting talent, but I would imagine the same would be said of a health insurance policy that had lots of moral exemptions in it, except that, given the shape of how health insurance is provided, employers have substantially greater leverage to press terms that may not be clear at first reading.Report

              • But the Church isn’t buying the contraception. They’re buying the coverage policy. They don’t have any idea what people are going to use their health care coverage for. Maybe they’ll all use it for setting broken bones. Maybe someone will use it to shoot your mother. No one knows.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:


                The Catholic bishop argument (for me) falls apart for two reasons:

                One, they are paying for access, not use.

                Two, they (unless someone can refute this for me, I already asked this twice and had no takers) already have an immense exception in law in that they can discriminate for religious purposes.  They can impose a workplace requirement in accordance with their religious teachings, and not hire people that don’t agree to the requirement.

                BYU does this.  Catholic hospitals could too.  Just have your employee sign a paper to agree not to use contraception and you have no real complaint coming off your nose.

                (I still think this is political and stupid on both sides, but if I have to choose who is throwing the smallest spitwads, it’s this side).Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Not quite this, Ryan.  Buying the access to something is buying the something.  If I know you are planning to kill your mom, and I pay the gun shop to provide you with a weapon and ammo, and you know I have done so, I know you might not go pick up the gun and bullets and use it on dear old mom, but I also know that I am giving you everything you need to do so.  So it still doesn’t work–the distinction just isn’t distinct enough.

                Sorry, but the only way to get to your preferred solution is to demonstrate that the social interest or the interests of women are strong enough to outweigh the interests of the church.  That potentially can be done, but this effort to demonstrate that the church’s interest doesn’t actually exist is all based on a “we can interpret their real religious doctrine about culpability better than they can” exercise, and that in itself is damn near enough effort to reject it without further analysis.

                Now, Patrick’s more clever example, that’s worthy of real consideration.Report

              • I think you’re still really, really begging the question. How do you know what people are going to use their healthcare coverage for? Without explicitly asking them – which would likely be super duper illegal – how do you know what you claim to know? You don’t.

                Granted, this is not my real argument. I don’t give a crap what their religious doctrine about culpability is. Their doctrine doesn’t apply outside the front door of their church, so it makes no dang difference to my position. But I still think you’re claiming to know things you don’t know.Report

              • Seriously, I could respond to every single post on this topic with:

                Hospital =/= Church

                I don’t give a flying fish what your religion tells you to do in a church, but when you start using the rules of your religion to change public policy outside of your church, you have officially crossed the line from Free Exercise to Establishment, and we are done here.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                when you start using the rules of your religion to change public policy outside of your church, you have officially crossed the line from Free Exercise to Establishment

                So Catholics ought not to lobby against the death penalty?Report

              • Sure they should. But they shouldn’t claim something as nonsensical as Catholics have to have an exemption from applicable death penalty laws. If you want to change the law – and they should! the death penalty is horrible! they’re right! – you have to use the democratic process (which lobbying is a part of). You don’t get to say, “God says X, you have to obey me.”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Hospital =/= Church

                And Church-run not-for-profit hosptial =/= for profit business, a point that folks on your side keep ignoring, which dramatically diminishes my inclination to take your argument as a serious one, rather than as a team-red v. team-blue one. If the distinctions really matter (and I think they do) then you have to get serious and make all the appropriate distinctions, not just the convenient ones.

                As to what level of culpability Catholics gain through funding contraceptives, it’s really nice of you to assure them that it’s minimal enough that God won’t whomp their asses, but I don’t think that’s quite how it works in the religious world.

                I want to pause a moment to re-emphasize that I’m not necessarily arguing against the rule; I’m arguing against the argumentative style of those here who are arguing in favor of the rule.  It’s been little more than an effort to pretend that a church’s charitable operations have no meaningful relationship to the church, telling them how they ought to interpret their religious doctrine, and accusing them of acting purely out of malice.  In other words, I think that except for its blessed lack of invective, it’s been emblematic of the worst kind of political debate.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                when you start using the rules of your religion to change public policy outside of your church, you have officially crossed the line from Free Exercise to Establishment, and we are done here.

                Ryan, again you are making a nonsense argument.  Let’s go back to the Smith decision.  If the Native American church lobbied for an exemption to laws against peyote on the grounds that it violates their free exercise beliefs, would you seriously argue that they “have officially crossed the line…to Establishment?”  That is, you’re arguing that the very act of trying to defend one’s free exercise right creates an establishment, and so the very act of making a free exercise claim is proof that there is no free exercise claim.

                Come on, you are better than that.

              • Are you trying to get me to argue against the Supreme Court’s position in that case? Obviously the mere fact that the Court went a certain way doesn’t mean they were right, but it’s weird that you just assume I would be on the opposite side of the actual law of the land.

                That said, you’ve over-read what I wrote. Where would one go about smoking (eating? I don’t really know how peyote works) this peyote? Inside or outside a church? As I actually stated in my position, I see no way to justify a law that infringes (most) sincerely held religious beliefs in the context of religious practice. If you’re at some kind of ritual for your religion, I am inclined to conclude that the state has no damn business interfering with what you’re doing.

                I think you are working way too hard to blur distinctions on this issue just so you can take whacks at liberals.Report

              • By contrast, if you insist that peyote has medicinal value or something, and so you are going to prescribe it at your hospital, I think you have no real argument  when faced with laws against it. Because, let me repeat, a hospital isn’t a church.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Because, let me repeat, a hospital isn’t a church.

                Sigh. Repeating an un-nuanced slogan over and over doesn’t obscure how un-nuanced it is.

                I think you are working way too hard to blur distinctions on this issue just so you can take whacks at liberals.

                I will defend to the death your right to think untrue things. 😉Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I’m kinda with Ryan on this one (this thread is all over the place).

                You’re undergeneralizing in this case, I’d say, James.  The U.S. says you have to provide health insurance that covers A-H.  The Catholic church doesn’t want to provide F.

                If I force the Church to provide health insurance that covers A-H, they’re still not *necessarily* providing F.  The gun store analogy is breaking apart at this point.

                A better analogy would be that the Government says, “You have to buy your employees a subsidized ticket to shop at this BigGiantMall, which includes a large number of shops selling a large number of things, some of which you agree with and some of which you don’t.  You can still tell your employees you really think they ought not to shop at the Porn Emporium, but the Porn Emporium is part of the BigGiantMall.”

                But at that point it’s not much of an analogy.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                You can use artificial chemical birth control for treatment purposes.

                You can’t use it if it may cause a chemical abortion.

                Note: if you have a disease that responds to “the pill”, this gives you a perfectly-attune-with-Catholic-theology (IMO) excuse to use “the pill” (for therapy) and a condom (to prevent a pregnancy that would be “aborted” by the Pill).

                Dish that one out on your parish priest and see how he handles it.  $5 says he flubs.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Your mom is so fat that she got run over and it took two days.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                You’re assuming, quite unreasonably, the presence of sperm. So are the Bishops.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Eh?  Did your parents fail to have “the talk” with you? 😉  (In other words, you need to flesh that comment out a bit more, sir.)Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Does it really need to be explained to you that women can be taking birth control without being sexually active?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Sam, it’s totally okay with the Church for a woman to take birth control pills if she’s not sexually active for treatment of medical conditions.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Patrick, they may be okay with it, but they don’t (to my knowledge) provide coverage for it.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Oh, so now they’re saying they’re just not going to pay for birth control for women who are sexually active?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                OK, thanks for clarifying.Report

  16. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I guess the overall problem I have with those supporting the church position, is that they’re making an argument that health insurance coverage is innately different a form of compensation than pure cash payments.

    For example, Kyle and I have gone a couple of rounds over the concept of proximate material support, as a reason for opposing contraception coverage within health insurance plans, but not in providing cash compensation. We disagree whether this is morally defensible or even logically consistent. This is evidently a matter of Catholic theology, that there are different levels of material complicity.

    Essentially they think material compensation is fine, except when it’s health insurance. So why then, should they provide health insurance at all?Report

  17. Avatar Steve S. says:

    I don’t see your first six as arguments for the mandate per se but as ancillary points brought up in the course of discussion. Your persuasive argument #1 pretty much covers it. I will add, as an ancillary point, that out of the infinite number of conscience exemptions that any of us might apply for to the larger society, this is the one that is causing the most widespread and emotional response is indeed indicative of a startling level of misogyny and psychosexual disorder.Report

  18. Avatar wardsmith says:

    First off, I think we need to talk about what health insurance means. Health insurers sell a product whose intent is to protect the insured from catastrophic loss when they have a major illness or injury. That’s how it started and the insurance companies came up with dozens of different plans that had various deductibles and covered various conditions. Interestingly being “fertile” was not considered a “condition” that needed to be treated. Think about it. Conversely, being “infertile” was considered a “condition” that could be treated, although the treatment is very expensive and most plans didn’t cover it.In fact, insurance plans are a “product” and are sold as such. There are things a specific plan might cover and things it won’t. It is like buying a cable TV subscription, maybe you get HBO and maybe you don’t. If you /do/ have HBO you’re going to pay more than the person who only has basic cable.

    Now we have today, and with passage of Obamacare, /many/ things are different and I certainly don’t know how it will end up, because 2500 pages of legislation can generate 2.5 Million pages of rules and regulations to follow (viz Medicare). With the passage of the act, insurance companies’ ability to operate as independent businesses is going to be severely curtailed. Insurers all rushed to raise rates because with the new Czar in charge, the ability to raise rates in the future will be severely constrained. Likewise they raised rates proactively because they had no idea what they would be obligated to cover in the future. When I think about the future of something, I always find it helpful to look at its past.