ND Grad Students Have Brain Cramp Over Contraception Mandate
In an effort to get the University of Notre Dame to cease suing the federal government over the contraception mandate, a trio of philosophy students have taken disingenuousness to a new level. According to Inside Higher Education:
At the University of Notre Dame, which sued the Department of Health and Human Services over the mandate in May, three philosophy graduate students have started a petition opposing the lawsuit.
But rather than arguing for birth control on its secular merits—as a letter from the faculty at John Carroll University to its president did in February, calling contraception “central to the health and well-being of women and children”—the petition takes a theological tack, arguing that the mandate might not conflict with Catholic teachings at all.
It goes on to subtly criticize the university for emphasizing the birth control controversy rather than working to develop more family-friendly policies.
The petition relies on a philosophical precept, the doctrine of double effect, which argues that in some cases, it is permissible to cause harm in the process of achieving something good under certain conditions, and suggests that insurance coverage for contraception might not conflict with Catholic teaching under that doctrine.
For those unacquainted with the ins and outs of Catholic moral theology, here’s a summary of the doctrine of double effect:
The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. It is claimed that sometimes it is permissible to cause such a harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end. This reasoning is summarized with the claim that sometimes it is permissible to bring about as a merely foreseen side effect a harmful event that it would be impermissible to bring about intentionally.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia provides four conditions for the application of the principle of double effect:
1) The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.
2) The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary.
3) The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.
4) The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect“ (p. 1021).
So presumably the “development of family-friendly policies” would be the good intended, while the provision of contraceptives would be a foreseen but unintended evil. Right, and when I shoot my wife between the eyes, I intend to cure her headache—her death in just an unfortunate side effect.
From a Catholic standpoint, the end that the students seek (free birth control), the means to obtain it (a Catholic institution knuckling under to federal coercion), and the intention expressed (to put contraceptives into students’ hands paid for by the university) are all invalid. But other than that, they’ve got a great argument.
The article goes on:
Its writers go on to argue that an exception to the mandate would be coercive for non-Catholic students and employees (or to Catholic students and employees who choose not to follow the church’s position on birth control).
“By requiring its employees to purchase additional insurance or to pay out of pocket, thereby placing a not insignificant financial burden on them, Notre Dame is effectively utilizing indirect coercion and imposing its religious beliefs and practices on its employees,” the petition’s authors wrote.
No, it isn’t. No one forces anyone to attend or work at Notre Dame, and if one doesn’t like the benefits, one can go elsewhere. Or one can pony up the nine bucks a month (please note the use of the double negative to try to evade this reality). What kind of idiot would buy additional insurance rather than do that (except maybe a Notre Dame grad student, har har).
“We just think there are much better ways that the university could be focusing its energy,” said Kathryn Pogin, one of the petition’s three authors, who is entering her second year as a graduate student in philosophy.
Yeah, because a brain-damaged institution such as Notre Dame can’t sue to protect its First Amendment freedoms and improve the football team at the same time.
So far, the petition has fewer than 100 signatures, though Pogin said they include quite a few faculty members as well as graduate students. She said she would like to see at least 200 signatures before delivering the petition to the administration.
That should make all the difference, what with Notre Dame having only about 11,500 students and 1600 faculty.
One thing that has troubled many who signed, and even some who did not, Pogin said, was that the decision to sue was made without consulting the faculty or student body. “I know some people were notified after the fact before it was made public,” she said. “They would have preferred to be consulted. They would have preferred to have discussion.”
Exactly. The university should have gone to the faculty and student body and asked, “Would you rather that we fight for our religious freedom and Catholic identity, or should we pay for free birth control for everyone?” That’s undoubtedly what a responsible institution should do.
After seeing this, if I worked at Notre Dame, I’d be questioning the efficacy of the teaching in the philosophy department.
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