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A Thomistic (Not That Thomas) Response to The Affordable Care Act

By Matthew Milhon

The Affordable Care Act is law. In the coming months Christian employers, organizations, and families will be faced with an assortment of unhappy choices with seemingly few viable options concerning their health care. As the ACA and the HHS contraceptive mandate begin to impose unacceptable practices on Christians there are a finite number of options. 1.) Christians can refuse to comply and decline to pay the fines that would be levied against them, 2.) They could refuse to comply and then make an attempt to pay the penalties, 3.) Organizations of principle can shutter their places of business in order to protect their consciences, 4.) They can simply comply with the government's coercive policies, or 5.) They can seek some sort of "third way," that is to say they can find a way to operate without capitulating. These, as far as this author can see, are the only options for those who object to the ACA and HHS.

Option one would seem, at first, to be the most courageous. A complete act of civil disobedience is very attractive, especially for those Christians who are trying the live the life of grace faithfully; but it is not at all viable on a practical level. Heavy fines, left unpaid, would cripple those disobeying organizations and families. This preference for radical disobedience brings to mind the early Donatist who prized martyrdom to such an extent that they would go and prod Roman legionnaires with wooden clubs in an attempt to incite their wrath. Is this an authentic living of the Gospel, would the Church fair better if there was no one to proclaim Christ's message? Pope Miltiades didn't seem to think so since he condemned the Donatists as heretics in the second century.

The second option is really only a derivative of the first. To disobey the law and attempt pay the huge fines would bankrupt even the wealthiest organizations very quickly. Take Hobby Lobby as an example, since Dec. 31, 2012 they have been vulnerable to fines in excess of 1.3 million dollars a day. They would have to net 474.5 million a year in order to protect their conscience. It is quite obvious that this is not a sustainable practice, how can we evangelize if we are all bankrupt?

Shuttering hospitals, schools, and other religious organizations would be a direct violation of our Lords commandment to evangelize and to take care of one another. This is really only a kind of submission, and one that does not live up to our vocation as saints.

Option 4, to comply, would be direct contribution to evils of the greatest magnitude, not to mention it would discredit the Church after She having fought so hard for religious liberty decided to give up, no, we much Witness.

The only remaining option then, which seems to be the most Catholic alternative, would give the Church a chance to breath and live to fight another day. When he received word that Henry VIII had issued the Act of Supremacy St. Thomas More responds that God made man "to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. If He suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can...then we can clamor like champions, if we have the spittle for it. But it's God's part, not our own, to bring ourselves to such a pass. Our natural business lies in escaping. If I can take the oath, I will."
This was not a cowards attempt to capitulate to heresy, it was God's good servant hoping that he could also be the King's. Catholics are called to live according to the Gospel within the framework of our nation's laws, only as a last resort, as we saw in the life of St. Thomas More should we accept martyrdom as the crown of victory, we do not incite it for it's own sake.

So what are we to do? In order to stand against this violation of conscience while being able to remain standing at all, we are going to have to discover, or create, a way to exempt ourselves from this law. One option would be to buy into a health-care cooperative. There are a number of Christian health-care cooperatives that do not provide funding for abortions, etc. and will satisfy the individual mandate that requires individuals to have health insurance. Good Samaritan Ministries, for example, offers a health-sharing model that matches individuals with medical bills with other members of the co-op so that members pay for one another's bills directly with their monthly 'premiums'. These organizations have been offering an alternative to traditional health insurance for years, and with the HHS mandate set to take effect in August it is likely that their memberships will swell with Catholics and other like-minded individuals seeking refuge.

While people of conscience are finding it difficult to live their convictions times like these are opportunities to discover how much salt we really possess. Let us take this opportunity to grow as Christians and reflect upon what exactly our role in this great nation of ours is and will be. We can still shape our nation, but we cannot do it if we are all bankrupt or in jail, we cannot do it if our hospitals and universities are closed. And still we cannot comply; we must choose our conscience over the law if it comes to that. We must take a Thomistic approach to all of this and respond to our authorities as St. Thomas More did to the Duke of Norfolk when argued that people of good will gave in to Henry and say "And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to Hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?"

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