There’s much conversation about the so-called conscience issues with the contraception “mandate” under the new health care reform act. The Immanent Frame carries a useful set of statements by scholars on the topic. Kevin Schultz is of course correct that the whole matter is trumped up for election-year politics. Essentially they’ve carved out whole new territory for rights of “conscience”: a right to have one’s money “marked” such that it can’t be used for things one doesn’t believe in, even once that money is committed to nonreligious purposes. This idea validates one of Viviana Zelizer’s theses that the infinitely-fungible character of money fails to protect it from being invested with myriad meanings and distinctions.
The thing I haven’t heard mentioned is that the only reason this is an issue is because of the bizarre, path-dependency-created fact that most health insurance in the United States is purchased by employers. In the context of a national health care program, employers wouldn’t be in the business of purchasing their employees’ health care, so there would be no issue about “conscience.” There is no objection on the part of the Bishops to using public roads to allow people to drive to purchase contraceptives, nor public police and fire to protect the establishments that sell them.