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Notre Dame Grad Students Argue Birth Control Mandate Is Good

What a surprise: Philosophy graduate students who don’t know what “coercion” means. From Inside Higher Ed:

At the University of Notre Dame, which sued the Department of Health and Human Services over the mandate in May, three philosophy graduate students have started a petition opposing the lawsuit.

But rather than arguing for birth control on its secular merits — as a letter from the faculty at John Carroll University to its president did in February, calling contraception “central to the health and well-being of women and children” — the petition takes a theological tack, arguing that the mandate might not conflict with Catholic teachings at all.

It goes on to subtly criticize the university for emphasizing the birth control controversy rather than working to develop more family-friendly policies.

The petition relies on a philosophical precept, the doctrine of double effect, which argues that in some cases, it is permissible to cause harm in the process of achieving something good under certain conditions, and suggests that insurance coverage for contraception might not conflict with Catholic teaching under that doctrine. Its writers go on to argue that an exception to the mandate would be coercive for non-Catholic students and employees (or to Catholic students and employees who choose not to follow the church’s position on birth control).

“By requiring its employees to purchase additional insurance or to pay out of pocket, thereby placing a not insignificant financial burden on them, Notre Dame is effectively utilizing indirect coercion and imposing its religious beliefs and practices on its employees,” the petition’s authors wrote.

But the employees are not forced to work for the university, so it’s hardly coercion. The employer determines the conditions of employment, and the employee has the option of rejecting the terms and leaving the job. Coercion comes into play when an entity must comply with a demand or face direct physical or legal harm. Consider two situations:

1). A man offers to pay you to cut his lawn. He is only willing to pay you, however, if you wear a hat.

2). The government passes a law requiring every lawn cutter to wear a hat.

It’s obvious that the first situation is odd, but not coercive. The second, on the other hand, is highly coercive.

But perhaps I’m wrong; after all, I am not a philosophy graduate student.

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