False Premises

Earlier this month in a Catholic Exchange piece I said that those in support of the HHS mandate think that the Catholic position prohibiting contraception is irrational; I failed to mention that they also think the prohibition is immoral. This is why, in addition to focusing primarily on religious freedom, we must also directly address contraception.

I understand well the argument that with an exclusive focus on religious liberty we build the largest consensus to win the fight against the HHS ruling. However, though I agree with focusing primarily on religious freedom, to exclude discussion of contraception signifies defeat in this particular fight. Left unaddressed and unchallenged, a false premise of this magnitude has the power to thoroughly undermine the argument from the get go. Consider: If prohibiting contraception were immoral, why shouldn’t the government step in? The argument would run thus: “If Catholics want to wound their own people, fine; but we will not allow Catholic employers to wound non Catholic employees!”

In order to expose and debunk the false premise that to oppose contraception is immoral however, we need only show the reasonability of our view. In other words, Church spokespersons should be equipped with well-prepared sound bites which could cause an open-minded viewer to have a second thought. That’s all. The USCCB has produced an unmatched example of conciseness and clarity in its presentation of easily digestible bullet points on the legal problems with the HHS ruling here and here.  They should prepare a similar list outlining the good news of Church teaching on procreation. The list might include explanations of: the blessings of children; responsible parenthood; NFP; the Catholic view of the goodness of the body; and the risks contraception poses to relationships, health, the common good and respect for women. Articles like this one reveal that if authors on a website dedicated to business analysis can make pithy common sense statements causing readers to do a “double-take” on the Catholic understanding of this issue, then Church spokespersons can as well.

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These points could then be contrasted with the administration’s catch-phrases, such as describing contraception as “preventive health care.” That phrase is a classic example of verbal engineering and contains an underlying view of human persons, procreation, human sexuality and babies which is opposed not only to Catholic anthropology but to natural law and common sense. Each time it is heard it has a subtle way of cementing false premises into the thought patterns of those who hear it. Or, consider this argument of the administration when presenting its recent “accommodation”:

“…if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company — not the hospital, not the charity — will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.”

This carefully crafted statement contains the meaning that the religious objection represents the opposite of “reaching out” and “offering care” and is therefore immoral. It also clearly suggests a lack of charity by mentioning “hassles”, which are irrational, and the rejection free “contraceptive care”.

Our side needs to express the good news of the Catholic position as often as the other side expresses their catch phrases. In short, contraception is not care, nor is abortion; neither are they conducive to love, and these points are not difficult to explain.  The good news of Catholic teaching, if proposed with courage and joy, will cause many – indeed many who are broken by the contraceptive culture – to grasp at the very least that the Catholic view on this matter is not immoral because it is full of common sense reasonability. This religious freedom debate depends on this point, and the other side knows it. Do we?


  • Peter J. Colosi

    Dr. Peter J. Colosi is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI.

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