A recent piece at National Review Online by Dorinda Borlee, Nicholas Nikas and Mark Rienzi brings into the light a very alarming new wrinkle associated with the minimum coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Apparently, abortion providers may receive funding from federally mandated insurance premiums paid by private citizens so long as it is funneled through separate accounts which are specifically intended for allocating reimbursements for abortion procedures.

This abortion allocation rule has the feel of some back-room conspiracy, but it is simply a natural outgrowth of the original minimum coverage provision of the PPACA. If the Supreme Court decides that NOT purchasing a good or service qualifies as regulable “commerce,” then there really is no concrete limit to what the government can mandate private citizens to do or not do. As long as someone can argue that a particular action or non-action by citizens sufficiently impacts the public weal, that could then serve as pretext for an enforceable federal edict. Two days ago, the Supreme Court was hearing arguments about the constitutionality of the minimum coverage provision, Judge Alito asked whether under this reasoning Congress could mandate that citizens purchase burial insurance, since it’s an eventuality that applies to everyone. Stephen Breyer replied directly that, “yes, of course they could” if it were determined necessary for the public good. The question, though, is what couldn’t be justified under this reasoning?

You may recall that when Bart Stupak and the “Stupak 11” tried to prevent federal abortion funding from being included in the original bill, they were able to hold out until the last minute when they finally relented on account of assurances by Obama that he would prohibit such funding through an executive order in the form of a signing statement. The lesson to take away from this is that Obama is actually adhering to the letter of his agreement. Yet what he is doing to make up for the lost federal funding to abortion providers is even more heinous, in my view.  At the very least, it is the same sort of casuistic shell game that the administration is proposing to Catholic institutions with regard to contraception funding.

What supporters of Obama and the Democratic party do not realize is that the abortion industry (and Planned Parenthood in particular) is an enormous corporate interest group, which influences policy in the same way every other corporate entity does. The moral debate surrounding its work obscures the fact that what the abortion industry is ultimately after is profit, to the tune of three-quarters of a billion dollars each year. (Just multiply the estimated number of abortions by the average cost of each abortion procedure.)

The way Belmont Abbey College has handled the issue of the HHS mandate is exemplary, in my view. They have received a good deal of resistance for it, though, even from within their ranks. Several employees have filed suit against them, and the student newspaper even ran a story pointing out that there were two drug stores located on their property which sell contraception. I found the abbot’s reply to the situation very illuminating:

After the student newspaper, The Crusader, published an article in May 2008 pointing out that the Abbey profits from the sale of contraceptives at two stores on its land, the Abbot responded by stating that: ‘[They] are preponderantly good operations, i.e. 99 percent or more of their business is not problematic, and the employment generation and economic stimulation they provide for the community of Belmont are worth tolerating a small amount of evil. The Abbey is not willing to lease to them because they sell contraceptives, but despite it.’

The case is a very intriguing instance of how material cooperation with evil can become illicit. If you recall from Dana’s excellent post on this topic from awhile back, material cooperation with evil does not itself constitute a moral transgression so long as (a) the good whose attainment is bound up with that cooperation is sufficiently great, (b)the attainment of that good increases with an agent’s proximity to the activity in question and (c) the activity in question does not involve grave scandal. The drug store case clearly meets all these requirements, in precisely the ways the abbot described. Cooperation with the PPACA, however, not only involves great scandal, but also violates  condition (b) since an employer’s increased engagement in this act (presumably through the gathering of more information as to the destination and distribution of their payments) would in no way increase the good to be obtained in the act, but would only serve to exacerbate the element of scandal and remove any lingering excuplatory ignorance!

The bigger issue, though, is the cooperation with the political evil involved with these mandates. There has to come a point- and it may be coming soon- when paying our taxes can no longer be considered licit cooperation with evil (which is the case now, in my view). There has to come a point when the violation of the inherent autonomy of citizens and the various intermediary associations within society (including the Church) constitutes a level of injustice that can no longer warrant material cooperation of any kind. In this case, I still think there is room for paying monetary penalties for noncompliance, since this would amount merely to submission to the penal function of the State (which is certainly within its rightful authority) and would also be an expression of resistance to unjust laws. But I’m not entirely sure where to draw the line there; it gets very messy.

What I worry most about, though, is the complete loss of any concrete barrier to what the State can require of us under the pretext of “the public weal”. And the issue cuts across ideological lines: this President sees the funding of abortion providers as a national interest, but the next President could see the funding of rapacious conglomerates with borderline-monopolies as a national interest. The scary thing is that once the government is permitted to provide such funding through legal mandates of private transactions, there is no way to hold in check the government’s power to direct citizens’ money to the industries of their choice. If you think corporate lobbying is bloated and corrosive now, then just wait to see what it will look like a couple years from now if the Supreme Court upholds this law.