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The Corner

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What Would Orwell Say?



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The word “Orwellian” is overused. Americans’ ears are nearly stopped to it. This makes it hard to characterize really Orwellian moments when they arise. One has arisen this week in the form of the Obama administration’s mandate requiring health-insurance policies to cover contraceptives and some forms of early abortion. I will “characterize” what’s happened therefore, without the aforementioned adjective, but in plain terms which leave a reader to understand that the government is channeling Orwell all the same by its: (1) speaking nonsense; (2) with a straight face; and (3) and claiming expert authority is on their side. (“Science” led to this government mandate, Secretary Sebelius insists! Wow, I’m scared now! You mean “scientists” have spoken? Well why didn’t she just say so in the first place? Then the rest of us would surely have just crawled off quietly! Not.) 

This, without adjectives, is what the Obama administration has done. First, they have claimed that birth control is disease prevention. Obviously, no matter how much President Obama believes that an unwanted baby is “punish[ment],” by no stretch of the imagination are babies equivalent to disease. Further, “scientific” claims in the materials upon which Secretary Sebelius relies — that more birth control is the answer to unintended pregnancy, nonmarital births, and abortion — all rely on carefully cherry-picked studies on discrete populations. The most important data is not mentioned or addressed. But if you look at a time series correlation between government promotion of birth control and rates of all of the aforementioned outcomes, you find a direct relationship between more of the former and more of the latter. Whether it’s correlation or causation (and I believe causation is the far better empirically supported conclusion), in no sense has government contraception promotion “prevented” anything it claims to prevent.  Even people who wholeheartedly hope that birth control will solve our problems can clearly see this. Currently, the population is and will continue to be saturated with mostly insurance-covered and government-subsidized (for the poor) birth control. All who want it can have it. Pushing unwilling individuals and employers and insurance companies to subsidize birth control further is unnecessary.  Second, the Obama administration is calling early abortion contraception. By mandating coverage of drugs like the morning after pill, and Ella, and refusing to even mention the latter’s potential for destroying already begun human embryos, the government has not only redefined words, but disrespected women. As best expressed by feminist Germaine Greer: “Whether you feel that the creation and wastage of so many embryos is an important issue or not, you must see that the cynical deception of millions of women by selling abortifacients as if they were contraceptives is incompatible with the respect due to women as human beings.”

Third, the Obama administration has told religious employers and individuals who do not wish to buy or subsidize contraception and abortion, that neither the nation’s historic commitment to conscience protection nor its reliance upon religious health care and social-services providers really matters much, relative to the government’s irrational belief that contraception will fix what ails us. Again, even non-Catholic, non-religious American can understand what a slap in the face this is. 

Fourth, the government has told Catholic employers and health-care and social-services providers that they have to cease serving non-Catholics in order to claim a conscience exemption. Undoubtedly, those who lobbied for this latest mandate would be happy to throw Catholic providers out of the health care and social services businesses. But it’s by no means clear that this is what average citizens want, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable disproportionately served by Catholic services, as well as ordinary citizens proud of America’s diverse array of private charitable initiatives. Those who lobbied for this assume that more state/tax supported services will rise up to take the place of conscientious providers. Good luck with that in the current and future economic environments!

As the Obama administration continues to pillage America’s tradition of conscience protection, and as they cherry-pick “science” to suit their irrational, fideistic belief in birth control and abortion, I am more and more coming to understand what led an earlier generation to take to the streets against “the man,” and “the establishment.” It’s a terrible spectacle — watching your own government lie, while claiming that it’s for the good of the citizenry. 

— Helen M. Alvare is associate professor of law at George Mason University School of Law.



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