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Catholic Health Care I: The ACLU Question

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 23, 2010

I have two points to make as a follow-up to Phil Lawler’s excellent commentary on Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s recent courageous defense of Catholic health care (see a Christmas gift from Bishop Olmsted: bold episcopal leadership). It seems to me that there will inevitably continue to be two misguided arguments raised against Bishop Olmsted’s stand, and I believe it is important to understand and reject both of them.

The first argument is raised by the American Civil Liberties Union. Of the two, it is the easier to reject but may not be the easier to understand. In response to the Olmsted case, pro-abortion organizations like the ACLU are insisting (though not for the first time) that all hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, must be forced by the Federal government to perform abortions. They demand “emergency” abortions today, but we must presume that this demand will escalate over time. I said that this is an easy argument to reject—at least for anyone who regards abortion as intrinsically evil. That moral evil may be permitted by government in some cases is obvious. But it must never be required by government.

Despite our instinctive rejection of it, however, I’m not sure that this pro-abortion position is easy to understand. What could possibly possess an organization calling itself the American Civil Liberties Union to conclude that it is part of its purpose to force Americans to engage in actions they believe are morally wrong? The key to answering this is to understand that the term “liberty” in our national discourse has long since ceased to refer to a rational and ordered system of rights and duties based on universal principles. Instead, the term “liberty”, like the term “right”, is more often used to describe the necessity of whatever our relativistic social elites wish to accomplish at any given moment in the remaking of society.

For some time, our social elites have postulated that our society ought to be one in which women, in isolation from men and families, should enjoy complete control over whether a baby in the womb lives or dies. More recently, they have asserted our society ought to be one in which there is no distinction of any kind between homosexuals and heterosexuals with respect to the possibility of marriage. Tomorrow, these same elites may wish to remake the social order so that it recognizes a legitimate family structure in polygamy or bestiality, or so that it generally accords stronger family members the right of life and death over weaker family members.

In other words, the terms “liberty” and “right” are now used to describe whatever social features our elites happen to invest with that sense of righteousness which best serves their own increasingly peculiar desires. It is inevitable that such “liberties” be imposed by force, according to the dictates of one distorted social vision after another. Fashionable opinion—rather than any attempt at reason, philosophy or natural law—now serves as the ultimate arbiter of the common good. Again, the need to reject this vision of “liberty as compliance” is clear.

I now turn to the second argument, The CHA Question.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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