Tuesday, April 18, 2006

On Force and Compromise

When is a compromise not a compromise? There are two answers to this question: 1) When the Hartford Courant says it is a compromise; and 2) when compromise is impossible.

Examples of the impossibility of compromise abound. For instance, if the Courant were compelled by a judge to reveal a source of information whose testimony was sought at trial, the paper would resist the order as a matter of principle. No compromise would be possible. The Courant would not yield to the variety of forces that could be brought to bear against it. Papers that cannot provide anonymity to their sources are not long for this world.

The Catholic Church regards abortion as a moral disorder and a crime against canon law. Any attempt to compel the church to allow abortion in any of its facilities would be resisted, and compromise on the point would be impossible.

So, when the Courant editorialized recently, “We had hoped Roman Catholic hospitals would find a way to provide emergency contraception known as Plan B to rape victims without being forced to do so by the legislature,” some Catholics drew a deep breath. Apparently, the paper’s hope had been dashed. Would the Courant now support legislative force to compel the Catholic Church to violate its view of the moral order and its own cannon laws?

In the Courant’s view, compromise – or at least the kind of compromise the paper and anti-Catholic legislators want – is impossible.

“Hospitals that get public funds, as all four of Connecticut's Catholic hospitals do, owe rape victims a full range of emergency care,” the Courant advised. But why not be clear? The paper is saying that Catholic hospitals do not presently provide Plan B pills to rape victims who are pregnant or ovulating. “A more restrictive change in church policies,” the paper says, “was instituted in January by Hartford Archbishop Henry Mansell and Bishop William Lori of the Bridgeport Diocese. Previously, Catholic hospitals could provide emergency contraception if the woman was not pregnant. The new policy requires that a pill be dispensed only if a woman is not ovulating.” By instituting this new and more restrictive policy, the bishop and arch-bishop “provoked” the legislature, which then produced two measures that deny funds to Catholic hospitals that did not, in the words of the editorial, “provide a full range of services” to its clients.

Let us leave aside for a moment the question of whether the Plan B pill is an aborticide if used when a woman is ovulating. The “full range of services” demanded by the Courant would seem to include ordinary abortions, legal in the United States at virtually any stage of pregnancy. Catholic hospitals do not provide this service. Should state funds be denied to Catholic Hospitals that withhold this service for religious reasons?

The Courant is silent on this question; but implicitly the paper’s answer to this question is "yes," because every argument so far made to force Catholic hospitals to provide Plan B pills to rape victims is also an argument that may be used in the future – or even now – to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions at any stage of pregnancy.

“Government,” George Washington said, “is force,” which is why he and the architects of the Republic created a system of government in which force is tempered by reason. Reason knows the difference between compromise and surrender. The editors at the Courant do not.

A bill to provide immunity from prosecution for reporters who defy court subpoenas is now snaking its way through the legislature. That bill, incidentally, takes all the glory out of civil disobedience. Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay a tax he knew would buy bullets to support an unjust war. Poor Henry never thought of lobbying the legislature to make him an exception to the rule. But even as the press in this state lobbies the legislature to immunize its reporters from the ordinary obligations of citizens to give truthful testimony at trial, the same press encourages legislators to form punitive laws that would force religious people to violate their consciences -- and they call this "compromise."
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