Many pro-life Catholics and evangelicals cheered when the Supreme Court ruled that small business employers don’t have to pay for abortifacients in health insurance plans. But could support for conscience rights lead down a slippery slope? “Some slopes are indeed slippery, and we do well to approach them with caution,” says theologian and philosopher Richard J. Mouw, “Which is why I take it seriously when I find myself challenged by a slippery slope argument about something that I advocate.”
My challenge in this regard has to do with the recent court decisions regarding Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College. In each case employers have resisted health insurance arrangements that violate their sincere opposition to funding abortions. I share their views, and have argued that these sincerely held convictions ought to be granted legal status—which is basically the perspective set forth recently by the majority of Supreme Court justices.
Here, however, is the slippery slope challenge in this context. Suppose a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to support a health plan for their employees that permitted blood transfusions? Or what if a Christian Science employer refused to provide any health insurance at all? Surely those are sincerely held convictions that have a right to be considered for protection in providing employ benefits.
The challenge is legitimate. And I don’t have an immediate response that settles the concern in any satisfactory manner. But I do take the challenge seriously. I have to—if I want the defenders of same-sex marriage also to take my challenge to them seriously.
Dr. Mouw raises an important point for consideration. I too take that challenge seriously, but I also think I have a response that can settle the issue in a satisfactory manner. Indeed, I think the worst-case outcome has likely already been settled.
Slippery slope arguments are often misunderstood and many people think they are always logically fallacious. As a general rule, if someone summarily dismisses a slippery slope claim, they are probably not the type of person who understands how arguments work. A full defense of slippery slopes against supporters of folk fallacies will have to wait for another day. For now, I’ll simply refer to and recommend one of the best analyses and explanations of the slippery slope, Eugene Volokh’s 2003 article in the Harvard Law Review, “The Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope.” In his paper Volokh says,