- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

During the now famous D.C. City Council debate over the Health Insurance Coverage for Contraceptives Act of 2000, several council members took on an unusual role for government officials that of arbiter of Catholic Church doctrine.
Rather than debate the merits of the legislation, certain council members told us they have "spent years fighting church dogma," that a religious freedom exemption would be tantamount to "social engineering" and that "to suggest the Church is somehow unduly burdened … by this minor provision [is] absurd."
The real absurdity is a governmental body overlooking that constitutional right known as religious freedom. The City Council, by refusing to include a comprehensive conscience clause, tried to compel religious organizations and employers to violate their religious and moral convictions. In this case, all District employers with prescription drug plans, including Roman Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, schools and churches, would be required to offer birth control pills, Norplant, Depo-Provera, IUDs and even the so-called "morning after pill" to their employees and employees' children.
Far from a "minor provision," this bill flagrantly violates our religious liberty. But how? What "church dogma" led council members to push aside the fundamental issue of religious liberty? The answer is that the Catholic teaching that contraception is contrary to the right understanding of human sexuality and the value of human life.
From time to time, you probably hear some social commentator pontificate that the Catholic Church is hung up on sex or needs to "get with the times." But take another look. The truth is, we believe sexual intimacy is good within marriage and without contraceptives not only for the couple but for society as well.
Marriage isn't some Hollywood fantasy of a hero and heroine driving off into the sunset, thank goodness. While beautiful, sunsets tend to fade rather quickly. Marriage is permanent a total loving, a total giving, a total sacrifice of a man and woman to each other. Our model for this love is Christ who literally died on the Cross for our salvation because he loved us so completely. Marriage doesn't come with parentheses. You know the kind: "I'll love you (unless you get sick)" or "I'll love you (until you look old)."
Which gets us to sex and contraception. Sexual intimacy is a privileged way for married couples to express their love for each other. Popular culture may attempt to reduce sex to a throwaway physical act, but it isn't. It is about connecting with one's spouse completely physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is a total giving of self.
Contraception is a violation of this giving. It's a parenthesis in the marriage: "I'll give everything I have to you body, soul and spirit (but not my fertility)." It breaks that complete connection between spouses by literally throwing up a barrier to life itself. It breaks the God-given link between the love-expressing and life-giving purposes of human sexuality, thus opening the door to the misuse of sexuality. In addition, many forms of contraception can sometimes cause an early abortion. So, not only is a life prevented, but one may actually be taken. Sadly, many couples do not realize this.
More than 30 years ago in the landmark document, "Humanae Vitae," Pope Paul VI accurately predicted what would happen in a contraceptive culture. Consider what he said: Widespread contraception would lead to "conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality" as well as a decline in respect by men for women to the "point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment." The pope predicted people would believe they have unlimited sovereignty over their bodies. Such "sovereignty" has led to abortion on demand and the many ethical issues we face today: stem-cell research, discarded embryos and the nightmare of human cloning.
Finally, very apropos to our current struggle before the City Council, Pope Paul VI wrote that the wide acceptance of contraception would be a "dangerous weapon … in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies." Today we see the truth of those words. As one council member said, "I am very concerned about having religious principles impact public health policy." Assuming that religious and moral convictions have no place in the public square, several council members pushed through this bill, saying it was about "public health" and AIDS prevention; that "public health" interests must override fundamental religious liberties.
Yet the council showed no compelling public health interest. None of the contraceptives covered in the bill prevents AIDS. Nothing prevents employees from purchasing contraceptives on their own. And, nothing in the CatholicChurch's teaching on sexuality leads to AIDS, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases or out-of-wedlock births.
Three decades ago, Pope Paul VI correctly identified contraceptives as the theological wedge that would be used to justify widespread sexual immorality and the loss of respect for human life. In the District and elsewhere, contraceptives are functioning as a political wedge by which government tries to force false values onto religious institutions and people of faith and conviction. In other words, the current legislation is but a prelude to further infringement on religious liberty.

William E. Lori is the auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

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