The Obama Administration’s requirement for many religious institutions to provide contraception may be a relatively new policy. But as Notre Dame political scientist Patrick Deneen explains, the “origin of the mandate lies in an impulse that can be dated back to the beginnings of the modern era and the rise of the state.”
At a recent conference in which I participated at the Georgetown Law Center, a number of speakers and participants described the HHS mandate as the necessary requirement that will liberate women from the “coercion” of the Church that seeks to restrict their access to free contraception—including abortifacients—and sterilization. The expansion of state power is justified for its liberative effects, freeing women from the oppression of an antiquated institution (its irrelevance was reinforced by frequent citation of the questionable statistic that 98% of Catholic women use contraceptives).
Note the conceit: Employees at Catholic (or other similarly informed religious institutions) are “coerced” by not having free contraceptives provided as part of their health plans. The state, through the threat of punitive fines (estimated by President John Garvey of the Catholic University of America to be $62 million per year should CUA refuse to comply), acts as the liberator of these oppressed people. This narrative seems plausible to many, because we have been deeply shaped and trained to associate the word “liberty” with the freedom of individuals “to pursue their own ends”—requiring, among other things, the liberation of recreational sex from any consequences—and not the rights, privileges, immunities and liberties of groups, societies, associations, even a corpus mysticum like the Church. In such a view we find Leviathan run rampant . . . .