Politics Magazine

A Professorial Oracle: I Demur

Posted on the 20 November 2011 by Erictheblue

In yesterday's Star Tribune, Stephen J Heaney, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of St Thomas, argues that a rule mandating "that nearly every insurance plan cover sterilization procedures and contraceptives" amounts to "an indefensible assault on freedom of conscience, of association and of religion" for Roman Catholics.  He purports to "explain the situation." 

Perhaps the first thing to notice is the words Professor Heaney chooses to deploy.  He speaks, for example, of "sterilization procedures," which in ordinary speech refers to a surgery imposed upon an unwilling subject by court order or the fiat of a tyrannical power.  But what the professor means by "sterilization" presumably includes one of  the most common, elected surgeries performed in the United States--the one most of us refer to as a "vasectomy."

No one is saying that Catholic hospitals must perform vasectomies, or abortions.  Insurance policies, however, should cover them.  And medical professionals should tell patients about their options, including those that are not available at Catholic hospitals.  People can get the services they conclude are best for them at some less benighted institution. 

When Professor Heaney isn't indulging himself in fanciful metaphors concerning "pork stores," he manages to make some straightforward pronouncements that are pretty bizarre.  Here he is "refuting" the claims of a previous writer, State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis):

Medicine is about restoring people to health.  Abortion destroys a living human being.  Contraception, when it works, prevents pregnancy. . . .  Deliberately frustrating healthy functions and destroying human beings is the opposite of health care.

This conception of the practice of medicine appears to ignore the entire realm of preventative care.  Is the professor against doctors telling patients they should quit smoking, or lose weight, or be screened for colon cancer?  Does he deny that for many women another pregnancy is medically undesirable, even dangerous?  The professor seems to think it is never a bad idea for a woman to become pregnant.  How many women concur?  And who should decide whether or not it is a good idea for her to have a baby?

The main thing the professor's article explains is why so many people, including most American Catholics, think the Church's teachings on matters touching upon sexuality are completely bonkers.  "Contraception, when it works, prevents pregnancy."  Yes, professor.  Now I understand why the Church is okay with the rhythm method.  It isn't on the insurance menu--and, besides, it doesn't work.

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