This is no compromise at all. The only difference is that the insurance company, instead of the university (or hospital or other religious institution), will inform the employee of the availability of the “services” that are contrary to our consciences. This is a cheap verbal trick. It will remain the case that Catholic hospitals and universities will be compelled (if they follow the mandate) to provide insurance that covers services that they hold are gravely morally wrong. It will still be the case that Catholic hospitals and universities are coerced to treat as the same procedures they believe are entirely different (genuine health services on the one hand, and abortifacients, sterilization, and contraceptives, on the other hand). It will still be the case that the government is seriously infringing on the exercise of religious freedom.
Some might argue that these proposals do not require us to cooperate formally with evil-doing (formal cooperation being that which involves intending that the evil be done, material cooperation being that which involves doing something that facilitates someone’s wrong-doing as a side effect). But the objection to the mandate (in either form — they are scarcely even cosmetically different) is that it compromises our teaching mission. First, it compels Catholic institutions to contribute in a fairly immediate way to evil-doing (by providing insurance that covers these services). Second, it prevents Catholic institutions from acting as Catholic institutions. It prevents them from teaching by their deeds, and so it infringes on their free exercise of religion. It forces them (if they bow to it) to compromise their witness to the Gospel. If the formal-cooperation objection were right, that would also mean Catholic universities could rightly comply if the government commanded them to remove crucifixes from their classrooms, or require each Catholic hospital to set aside a room where government paid abortionists would come to provide their grisly “services.” Such compliance would not be formal cooperation, but it would surely betray the mission of those institutions.
Bottom line: Catholic institutions will be forced to pay for insurance that provides coverage for procedures that violate their consciences. The “new” mandate is like forcing a Catholic university to provide its students with cable TV that includes pornographic channels; the students will have to pay for watching every channel except the pornographic channels — only, the university will not provide the list of channels, that will be provided (by mandate) by the cable TV company. Clearheaded Catholics would not comply with such a mandate — nor will they with this one.
— Patrick Lee is the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Professor of Bioethics and Director of the Institute of Bioethics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.