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Governor Jindal and the politics of birth control

Fr. Pacholczyk dissects Gov. Jindal’s proposal for over-the-counter birth control . . .

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last December, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal argues that the cost of birth control could be reduced by eliminating the required doctor’s visit to get a prescription — making contraception available “over the counter.”

If it were made available this way, he argues, it would no longer be reimbursable by health insurance, and people could simply purchase it on their own. Jindal posits that this approach would result in “the end of birth control politics.” He relies on several simplistic assumptions and inadequate moral judgments, however, as he tries to advance this argument.

First, he misconstrues the objective. The goal should not be to remove birth control from political debate, but rather to arrive at reasonable medical, ethical and constitutional judgments about birth control and public policy. Contraception is an important topic for public discussion because it touches on basic human and social goods, such as children, family and sexual fidelity.

Indeed, laws about contraception have always been based upon concerns for the public good and public order. This was the case when Connecticut, in 1879, enacted strong legislation outlawing contraception. This law, similar to the anti-contraception laws of many other states, was in effect for nearly 90 years before it was reversed in 1965. These laws codified the longstanding public judgment that contraception was harmful to society because it promoted promiscuity, adultery and other evils.

Yet Jindal fails to engage these core concerns and instead retreats behind a common cultural cliché when he writes, “Contraception is a personal matter — the government shouldn’t be in the business of banning it or requiring a woman’s employer to keep tabs on her use of it.” If it’s true that contraception is often harmful to individuals and families, to marriage and to women’s health, then it clearly has broader public policy implications and is, objectively speaking, not merely a “personal matter.”

Consider just a few of the health issues: Contracepting women have increased rates of cardiovascular and thromboembolic events, including increased deep vein thrombosis, strokes, pulmonary emboli (blood clots in the lungs), and heart attacks. Newer third and fourth generation combination birth control pills, which were supposed to lower cardiovascular risks, may actually increase those risks, and recently there have been class action lawsuits brought against the manufacturers of Yaz, Yasmin and Ocella, because women have died from such events.

In seeking to serve the public interest, the government may determine to become involved in such matters, as it did back in 1879, through specific legislative initiatives or through other forms of regulatory oversight. Indeed, the recent deployment of the HHS contraceptive mandate, as a component of ObamaCare, reflects an awareness of the public ramifications of this issue, even though the mandate itself is profoundly flawed and ultimately subverts the public interest. It compels Americans, unbelievably, to pay for the sexual proclivities of their neighbors, not only by requiring employers to cover costs for the Pill in their health plans, but also to pay for other morally objectionable procedures, including direct surgical sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs.

Jindal goes on to argue, “As an unapologetic pro-life Republican, I also believe that every adult (18 years old and over) who wants contraception should be able to purchase it.” Yet Jindal is really quite apologetic (and inconsistent) in his pro-life stance by arguing in this fashion. Contraception can never be pro-life. It regularly serves as a gateway to abortion, with abortion functioning as the “backup” to failed contraception for countless women and their partners. Abortion and contraception are two fruits of the same tree, being anti-child and therefore anti-life at the root. Certain “emergency” contraceptives (like Plan B and EllaOne) also appear able to function directly as abortifacients. IUDs can function similarly, making the uterine lining hostile for an arriving human embryo and forcing a loss of life to occur through a failure to implant.

Jindal, a committed Catholic, should not be minimizing the medical and moral risks associated with promoting contraceptive use, nor lessening social vigilance by promoting “over the counter” availability. Committed Catholics and politicians of conscience can better advance the public discourse surrounding contraception by avoiding such forms of circumlocution and instead directly addressing the medical and ethical evils of contraception and the unacceptability of the coercive HHS mandate itself.

REV. TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

Deficit denial, American style

The Acton Institute’s Sam Gregg writes that despite the United States’ massive and unsustainable deficits, recent polls show that most Americans are seemingly unwilling to support cuts to the federal governments extensive entitlement programs. Gregg argues that entitlement cuts are absolutely necessary if America ever hopes to stay solvent . . .

Dr. Sam Gregg

Until recently most people thought the primary message of the 2010 Congressional election was that Americans were fed up with successive governments’ willingness to run up deficit after deficit — and their associated refusal to seriously restrain public spending.

If, however, the results of a much-discussed Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll released on March 2 indicate what Americans really think about fiscal issues, then much of the country is clearly in denial, refusing to acknowledge the truth about what America must do if it is to avoid the fate of many Western European nations.

While the poll reveals considerable concern about government debt, it also underscores how unwilling many Americans are to reduce welfare programs that, in the long term, are central to the deficit problem.

Here are the raw facts: America’s federal Social Security program has become the largest government pension scheme in the world in terms of sheer dollars. It is also by far the federal budget’s single greatest expenditure item.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, “human services” — Social Security; Medicare; Health expenditures; Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services; Veterans benefits; and the euphemistically named “Income Security” (i.e., unemployment benefits) — were consuming 4% of America’s GDP in 1949. By 1976, the figure had increased to 11.7%. In 2009, it was consuming 15.3% of GDP.

During the same period, human services began consuming a steadily increasing size of federal government expenditures. In 1967, human services spending was 32.6% of the federal budget. By 2009, this figure had increased to 61.3%. It’s predicted to rise to 67% by 2016. In 2010, 75% of human services spending was on Social Security, Medicare, and Income Security — in short, the core welfare state.

These disturbing numbers make it clear that any serious federal deficit reduction must involve spending cuts to federal welfare programs. That doesn’t mean other areas of government spending should be immune from cuts. But the deficit simply can’t be properly addressed without a serious willingness to reduce welfare expenditures.

And yet, despite all the passionate rhetoric from Americans about the need to diminish government spending, the WSJ-NBC News poll suggests that fewer than 25% of Americans favor cutbacks to Social Security or Medicare as deficit-reduction measures. As the WSJ’s commentators noted: “Even Tea Party supporters, by a nearly two-toone margin, declared significant cuts to Social Security ‘unacceptable.’”

Unacceptable? Think about that word. Do large numbers of Americans really believe there is something morally evil about significant reductions to welfare spending under any circumstances? Since when — apart from Greece and other models of fiscal rectitude — have welfare payments assumed the status of an absolute right subject to no qualification? Have we really gone so far down the path of economic Europeanization?

Granted, the same poll suggests much larger numbers of Americans are willing to raise the retirement age to 69 and to means-test social security. But is that the best Americans are willing to do?

Spain’s unreconstructed-1960s-lefty-Socialist government has just raised that country’s retirement age to 67. Not surprisingly, the measure won’t fully kick in until 2027, long after Spain’s political class and their tame voting constituencies have met their Maker and no longer need to live off their children’s futures. But can Americans who proclaim their attachment to free enterprise and personal responsibility really do no better than left-wing Western Europeans?

Back in 2007, journalist Robert Samuelson summarized the situation perfectly. “Most Americans,” he wrote, “don’t want to admit that they are current or prospective welfare recipients. They prefer to think that they automatically deserve whatever they’ve been promised simply because the promises were made. Americans do not want to pose the basic questions, and their political leaders mirror that reluctance. This makes the welfare state immovable and the budget situation intractable.”

Presidential campaigns are invariably accompanied by a great deal of posturing. It would be helpful, however, if some serious candidates for the nation’s highest office in 2012 — Republican or Democrat — would use their moment in the spotlight to educate Americans about what’s at stake.

One former American vice-president once reportedly insisted, “Deficits don’t matter.” Unfortunately, there is mounting proof that he was wrong. After examining data on 44 countries over approximately 200 years, two economists recently found evidence suggesting that developed nations with gross public debt levels exceeding 90% of GDP (i.e., the USA) find that their medium-growth rates fall by 1%, while average growth declines by an even greater proportion.

That’s troubling because while deficit cutting matters, wealth creation matters even more if we are to dig ourselves out of our fiscal hole. America now seriously risks seeing its burgeoning welfare costs suffocating the productive sector of the economy that makes social welfare possible in the first place.

Incidentally, it won’t be the rich who suffer. It will be the poor. In their laudable concern for the weakest among us, Americans ought to remember that and start matching political rhetoric with consistent fiscal action.

Dr. Samuel Gregg is the Acton Institute’s research director. He has authored several books including “On Ordered Liberty,” his prize-winning “The Commercial Society,” and “Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy.”

WSJ: Down but not out in Catholic suburbia

The Wall Street Journal profiles efforts of Orange County Legate Tim Busch  . . .

Main Street

Wall Street Journal
February 2, 2010

Tim Busch

Tim Busch

Tim Busch [a member of Legatus’ Orange County Chapter] has an answer to the epidemic of closing Catholic schools. And it has nothing to do with vouchers.

It couldn’t come at a more critical moment. Over the next few days, nearly 2.2 million students and their families will celebrate Catholic Schools Week. Though the Catholic school system remains America’s largest alternative to public education, the number of both schools and students is roughly half what they were at their peak in the mid-1960s. According to the National Catholic Education Association, the trend continued last year, with 162 Catholic schools consolidating or closing against only 31 new openings.

Amid the gloom Mr. Busch offers a prescription for revival: End the financial dependence on parish or diocese. Build attractive facilities. And compete for students.

If that sounds like a business formula, it is. Mr. Busch is a good friend I came to know through Legatus, an association of Catholic CEOs. Spend any time around him, and you’ll find he believes that America needs Catholic schools more than ever, and that they can compete with the best. To prove it, he’s helped start up two privately run Catholic schools–St. Anne elementary school and JSerra high school, both in southern California.

Now, there are plenty of upscale Catholic schools with waiting lists–especially those run by religious orders. But here’s a fact that gets little mention: a Catholic education is in danger of becoming a luxury for the middle class. It’s hard to be optimistic about the future of Catholic schools in our inner cities if Catholics cannot make a go of these schools in the suburbs, where most Catholics live.

Do the math. In my area of New Jersey, for example, a Catholic high school whose tuition clocks in at $15,000 a year is deemed a bargain. For a family with three or four kids, the total tuition can top $3,000 a month. Young middle-class families struggling with a new mortgage and high property taxes can find themselves squeezed: not wealthy enough to pay, not poor enough for aid.

In Mr. Busch’s case, he says he got the idea for starting up St. Anne after he and his wife went looking for a Catholic school for their first child–and were depressed by the dilapidated facilities they found at many schools. Ultimately he and his partners settled on a model where parents take responsibility for operating the school, with the diocese ensuring the teachings are authentically Catholic. It’s a division of responsibility much in line with Vatican II, freeing up pastors to be pastors while tapping into the financial, legal, and business abilities of lay people.

In some ways, it’s liberating for both. Schools replace lay boards that merely advised a pastor or bishop with lay boards that raise money, build facilities, and actually run the place. The appeal to a bishop is this: We’ll help you provide an authentic Catholic education to more children—and it won’t cost you a dime.

For those who complain that such schools serve only the rich, Mr. Busch says that financially stable schools have more wherewithal to offer those in need (even without endowments—the next step—St. Anne and JSerra have more than 10% of their students on financial assistance). He further points out that need is by no means limited to money. “Some children have wealth,” he says. “But having wealth does not insulate you from problems like divorce, substance abuse, loneliness, a culture saturated in sex, and so on. These kids need the Catholic message as much as everyone.”

Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., agrees. “Catholic education is such a value both for Catholics and for society that we want it to be accessible and affordable for all who see its intrinsic value . . . . We are fortunate that many lay people are committed to this cause—and are helping us ‘think outside the box’ so that Catholic schools will thrive in this new decade and beyond.”

Mr. Busch’s privately run Catholic schools, of course, are not the only new model showing promise. The 24 Jesuit-based Cristo Rey high schools across the country do a terrific job through an innovative work-study program. The bishop and his flock in Wichita, Kan., embraced a stewardship model that calls upon all parishioners to give 8% of their gross income, which allows the diocese to make all its Catholic schools tuition free. And Catholic universities such as Notre Dame and Boston College are reaching out to help run Catholic elementary and high schools.

“We can’t wait for vouchers, and we can’t look to the old model of relying on our pastors and bishops to come up with the money and answers,” says Mr. Busch. “If we want Catholic schools for our children and our society, we have to adopt new models that let us compete.”

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