Back in the 1850s, if you were sheriff in a “free state,” one in which slavery was prohibited, and bounty hunters came to your county, you were obliged by the Fugitive Slave Act to assist them in the capture of runaway slaves. Once captured, a slave could be returned home or killed in punishment, as the “owner” wished.
Law enforcement officers had no conscience protection that would have allowed them to refuse to assist in the capture of slaves.
The Constitution, the Congress, the executive branch and finally the Supreme Court, in Dred Scott v. Sandford, protected the rights of the slave owner, but not the slave, nor the person who found slavery to be evil.
No doubt, some will object to the comparison of the Fugitive Slave Act and the Health and Human Services contraception mandate. They would argue that slavery may be the greatest evil ever perpetuated in the name of the United States and in contraception neither a human life is involved, nor any evil at all.
However, from the point of view of those who believe human life begins at conception, the analogy is apt.
In point of fact, “contraception” is not really just contra-conception. With the exception of barrier methods and spermicides, the widely used means of birth control are dual purpose.
If they fail to prevent ovulation, they make the uterus inhospitable to the newly created human life.
This “abortifacient effect” makes the use of the term “contraception” and “contraceptive mandate,” as well as the dismissing of moral objections because “it’s not abortion,” morally and logically outrageous.
It would be like judging a man who killed someone in the course of a robbery only as a robber, the lesser of the two effects.
“Contraception” not only prevents human life — it kills it. This is a fact that almost no one on the other side is willing to address, especially with regard to the ethical consequences.
For the citizen who accepts without moral equivocation that human life begins at conception, the opposition to the mandate is as firm as the opposition of those who opposed the devaluation of slaves to three-fifths of a person, or to property.
Using our analogy of the Fugitive Slave Act, therefore, we will refuse formal cooperation. We will not be of one will with the slave owner and the bounty hunter, nor will we actually participate in the capture of slaves.
They are human beings in our eyes and treating them otherwise devalues both them and us.
We will likewise not render the immediate material cooperation of providing the kind of aid to the bounty hunters without which the capture of slaves could not be accomplished. We thus cannot provide oral or written information about where to find slaves or funds for general bounty hunting, because unless we’re self-deceived, we know exactly what the money would be used for: manacles and shackles to capture and transport slaves, possibly to their deaths.
Among the forms of mediate material cooperation, actions not directly connected to the capture and punishment of slaves, there are two kinds: immediate (or proximate) material cooperation and remote material cooperation. These presume that the will does not approve of slavery, otherwise the cooperation would be formal.
Immediate material cooperation has some causal connection to slavery, more or less close. We refuse to cooperate, therefore, with any organization among whose primary ends are the upholding of the institution of slavery and the intellectual, political and economic edifice surrounding it. To do so would have the immediate material effect of advancing slavery itself, even if my support would be for some seemingly good but lesser purpose.
No proportional reason could ever justify such a degree of material support for slavery.
Finally, of the lesser form of mediate material cooperation, remote material cooperation: Since in such cooperation the causal connection is distant, even if not non-existent, we are able to cooperate with individuals and institutions who have some connection to slavery or among whose lesser purposes some support for slavery may be found.
This will no doubt be necessary, as support for slavery is widespread, and few organizations are untouched by it.
However, we will lend even this kind of material cooperation only for proportionately justifying reasons. An example of this would be material cooperation with our own government in matters other than slavery. We understand that individuals with whom we cooperate, and material means we provide through taxes, may incidentally work to continue slavery.
However, the disorder of political and economic disruption, and especially civil violence, would be a far greater evil than the remote material cooperation of a citizen. Political action, litigation, non-violent protest, even civil disobedience, will be our only recourses.
As noted earlier, the analogy will not appeal to some. However, it brings into relief by a concrete historical example the moral cost of cooperation in evil, any evil.
History is replete with such examples, from pre-Christian Rome to Nazi Germany to our own day. The fact that the victim of abortion, including a “contraceptive abortion,” is small and defenseless, having little cultural or civil protection, only makes the evil greater — and the duty to oppose it greater as well.
This is why the HHS contraception mandate should not be imposed on any American citizen — and why no compromise can ever be accepted.
Colin Donovan, STL, is vice president for theology at EWTN. He can be heard on EWTN Radio's Open Line Fridays from 3-5 p.m.