by Daniel Luzer
Many Catholic universities are enacting changes in their health care plans designed to provoke the Obama administration. The Catholic Church, bothered over the administration’s recent decision to compel all health insurance companies to provide birth control coverage, is publicly opposing the measure. The University of Notre Dame, in particular, is suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over the birth control requirement.
Not everyone at Notre Dame, however, agrees. According to an article by Libby Nelson at Inside Higher Ed:
At the University of Notre Dame, which sued the Department of Health and Human Services over the mandate in May, three philosophy graduate students have started a petition opposing the lawsuit.
But rather than arguing for birth control on its secular merits — as a letter from the faculty at John Carroll University to its president did in February, calling contraception “central to the health and well-being of women and children” — the petition takes a theological tack, arguing that the mandate might not conflict with Catholic teachings at all.
This is a little questionable. While the Catholic Church technically has no official position on something so specific as “whether or not private health insurance companies can provide birth control coverage,” it pretty clearly opposes birth control.
The graduate students, however, remain undaunted. As Nelson explains
The petition relies on a philosophical precept, the doctrine of double effect, which argues that in some cases, it is permissible to cause harm in the process of achieving something good under certain conditions, and suggests that insurance coverage for contraception might not conflict with Catholic teaching under that doctrine. Its writers go on to argue that an exception to the mandate would be coercive for non-Catholic students and employees (or to Catholic students and employees who choose not to follow the church’s position on birth control).
The principle of double effect is generally referenced only in relation to very extreme, immediate situations along the lines of “it is morally permissible to bomb enemy headquarters during a war” if it will cause the way to end, even if the bombing also kills civilians. This doesn’t seem like quite the same sort of situation, but I suppose it’s worth a try.