Another Expansion of the Term “Right” …

So it appears that before Ebonmuse moves on from Daylight Atheism, I’m going to celebrate his move by taking some parting shots at him. Because here comes another one …

This article is about a call to action over “conscience clauses”. I’m not going to say much about that. I am going to talk about his specific comment, and ask some tough questions about it. Here it is, in its entirety:

To Whom It May Concern:

Access to contraception is a human right and should be protected accordingly. That’s why I’m writing to urge you not to expand the exemptions to the recently announced rule that requires all employers to cover contraception for their employees without a co-pay.

The vast majority of men and women in America, regardless of their religious beliefs, use contraception at some point during their lives. Birth control ensures that every child is a wanted child, and by doing so, leads to happier and more stable families and less poverty and more education for children. There’s every reason for a democratic government to strongly support its use and ensure that everyone who wants it has access to it. Please don’t bow to the demands of a small, noisy minority. Leave this rule as is!

Okay, so let’s start with the first line: since when has “access to contraception” been a protected right? It’s certainly not explicitly defined as such in pretty much any Constitution that I’m aware of, and there’s no philosophical argument for saying that access to contraception is just an inherent right accorded to all humans. So, if this really is a protected right it’s going to have to be implicitly defined as the result of another right. But I can’t think of any right that that would follow from as well. Maybe freedom of choice would imply a notion of allowing people to have birth control, but certainly not any more so than, say, the right to bear arms or to, say, buy a car. So I’d need some kind of actual argument before being convinced that access to contraception is an actual right.

Second, even if it is a right, recall that this is about having full coverage under insurance for contraception, which implies that that right would mean that you have a right to have your contraception paid for, otherwise any sort of exception is just up to the relevant legislative body. But it’s highly debatable whether “access to a right” includes having someone else pay for it in any way. So even if “access to contraception” is a right, that doesn’t mean that it being funded is a consequence of that right. And if that isn’t a consequence of that right, then there’s no rights issue over the conscience clauses.

Third, this is clashing with an actual explicitly protected right: the right to freedom of religion. So even if “access to contraception” is a right, we would still have to ask if forcing religious organizations or religious employers to offer it as a benefit violates freedom of religion. I, personally, think it wouldn’t, because basic medical services should be mandated regardless of conscience, and only mandated services can clash with freedom of religion. However, I don’t think that “access to contraception” fits that bill, and so should be something offered to companies and negotiated over in the deals. Then, if enough people care about it, companies that offer it will find hiring easier and encourage others to do the same.

But I doubt that would happen, since I’m fairly certain that other than a few people who are expanding the definition of “right” to include “the things I think good”, no one cares about whether contraception is fully paid for or not, mostly because it usually isn’t that expensive to get it yourself.

So, in the next paragraph, he goes on to say that most American men and women use contraception. Probably true. So what? Most American men and women drink, but that doesn’t mean that a business has to allow drinking on the premises or pay for it or anything else. It’s simply not the case that “Most people do it” makes it a right, and from the first sentence that’s what he’s supposed to be defending, remember? So why isn’t he doing that?

The next line goes on about how this ensures that all children will be wanted children. Well, except for cases where the contraception fails of course. And while that situation is desirable … being desirable does not make something a right, nor does it require that the state ask anyone else to pay for desirable situations or trump rights to do so. So just because he thinks that this would be good for society does not, in fact, mean that the exceptions should not be expanded, especially since we can encourage a behaviour without paying for it.

He finishes with a flourish, but it’s a meaningless one. He says there are reasons for a democracy to ensure access to contraception but still conflates “pay for” with “don’t stop people from getting”. He never explains why access to contraception is a right, or how this doesn’t clash with freedom of religion. He simply says that you shouldn’t let a noisy minority dictate policy without ever even bothering to make sure that that noisy minority is not him. The comment is devoid of reason, and the post doesn’t give any additional argumentation.

This strikes me as, as I said above, someone deciding that they want something to be the case therefore it is a right. Only if we view this in light of access to contraception being a defined right does his comment make sense at all. But that is a very dubious proposition, to say the least.

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