Bobby Jindal, the conservative Catholic governor of Louisiana, attracted some attention last week for a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he advocated making oral contraceptives available over the counter without a prescription. And for his pains, he received a slap on the wrist from his local archdiocese.
Jindal made his case on libertarian and partisan grounds: People should have a right to buy products free from government restrictions, and letting them do so in this case (as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends) will take contraception out of the political arena (where the Democrats are using it to kick our butts).
In response, the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ communications director told the Times-Picayune, “We disagree with the governor’s opinion because, as the Catholic Church teaches, contraception is always wrong.” And so, presumably, the more readily available it is, the greater the quantum of wrong in the world.
This archdiocesan stance hardly comes as a surprise, but rather than simply let their knees jerk, Catholic powers-that-be would do well to heed Jindal’s more subtle message. The relevant two sentences:
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. But anyone who has a religious objection to contraception should not be forced by government health-care edicts to purchase it for others.
Jindal recognizes that implicit in the religion clauses of the First Amendment is a quid pro quo: American society gives you space to conduct your affairs according to your religious lights in exchange for your acknowledging that others have a right to proceed according to theirs. What gets peoples’ backs up is when religious bodies demand exemptions from prevailing norms and at the same time take action in the public square to push their norms on society at large.
Yes, they have a right to behave that way. But they are wise to pick their spots carefully, to know when to beat a strategic retreat, and to make it easier, not harder, for those on the other side to meet their needs.
If the Catholic bishops really wanted their schools and hospitals as well as any employer with religious scruples to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, they would be helping the Obama Administration find a way to provide free contraceptive coverage to all women–or at least not getting in the way of the Administration’s doing so.