Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Wed Feb 15 15:31:23 2012
Conscience and Politics

Recently I've been very bothered to see contraception a topic again in American politics; the implementation of health care reform means the country has to start to get on the same page in what types of health services we're going to offer, and health care is tied enough to the details of how we live our lives that this means we're going to talk about norms. Unfortunately, we're not having an entirely honest debate.

The conservative side on this (and I am not meaning to imply all conservatives share this; my mother for example is fairly conservative but is very very hostile to the stance I'm labelling conservative here) is that premarital sex is bad, and that the battle over access to contraception is carte blanche for premarital sex; as an enabler of antisocial conservative they want it stopped. The dishonesty I'd like to talk about is actually either dishonesty or inconsistency, depending on the person; it's framing this as a freedom-of-conscience/I-don't-want-to-pay-for-it struggle. The latter framing does not hold water; if we really held that nobody should individually have to pay for government costs they don't approve of, I'd certainly never pay a dime for military chaplains, particular wars I disapprove of, faith-based initiatives, parts of the "war" on drugs, and a number of other things. This is something I think they would never accept, and it is also extremely bad governance. The meaning of democracy includes a notion that we decide together how to run society and bear the costs together, although it's even more general than that; it's how societies *must* work. On the freedom-of-conscience matter, that has a tiny amount of additional meat, mostly wrapped in nonsense. We're not actually talking about freedom of conscience, as we're not talking about restricting conscience, just action. What we're actually talking about is a related intuition (that lacks a good name); the idea that a decent state doesn't force people to perform acts they might find morally reprehensible. Even this intuition does not squarely apply in that it's mediated through the measure of funding; this is not about requiring any direct action, just that they provide a plan that includes contraceptive cover. Still, I hold that this is an unworkable intuition, even in the stronger form. The contents of conscience can be arbitrary in a given person, and to have the state yield on these matters without severely restricted scope amounts to granting special legal privilege to people based on their faith (or possibly philosophy). I contend (but won't argue here right now) that that's both a quagmire and it is reprehensible. It destroys rule of law in the name of an impossible liberty.

As you probably can guess from my general political persuasion (and past statements on my blog), I believe we should have universal health care in this country, I believe that contraceptives should be free (compare the cost of contraceptives to an unwanted child, and consider the life of people raised by unwilling/unable parents, just as solid starters). If those few people (a minority of Catholics, a much slimmer minority of others) who are bothered by the idea of contraceptives would just be honest enough to say they have a problem with contraceptives rather than hide behind this either-dishonest-or-inconsistent claim of religious liberty, I would appreciate it. Mainstream society would probably consider them moonbats, but at least they'd be judging the perspective based on what it's actually about.

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