Editorial: Got conscience?

With the Obama administration making headlines this month for ceasing its appeal of a New York district judge’s ruling allowing the contraceptive drug Plan B One-Step to be sold over the counter and without age restrictions, Catholics find themselves again on the defensive. Soon anyone of any age without any oversight may purchase the drug, which many believe can be abortion-inducing.

We have previously noted the sad irony that a 13- or 14-year-old can’t get a tattoo without parental permission, nor see an R-rated movie, but can now walk into a pharmacy and purchase a pill to prevent — and possibly terminate — pregnancy. This lack of monitoring has many implications, including any sort of medical oversight for the use of such a powerful hormonal cocktail. In addition, obvious questions about inappropriate relationships or potential rape won’t be asked.

But what about those who sell the drug? Under existing policies in most pharmaceutical outlets, pharmacists who don’t wish to fill a prescription that violates their religious beliefs are not required to, thanks to conscience clauses.

Once Plan B goes over the counter, however, the pool of those selling the pill expands — and pharmacies and box stores don’t yet have policies in place. Will conscience clauses extend to every cashier? What does the future of this protection look like? Will it even exist?

Once again we find ourselves sliding deeper into a moral black hole. As our cultural values and priorities become degraded, there is a growing threat to Catholics: How do we protect ourselves, our families, our children from this same degradation? Long gone are the days when Catholic drugstore employees refused to sell contraceptives because it was understood to be cooperation with evil. Now, a whole series of items that used to trouble the Catholic conscience are glossed over in favor of being inclusive, sensitive or politically correct. Sometimes it’s a question of incomplete or nonexistent catechesis. Sometimes it’s the result of plain old apathy.

Plan B and pharmacies comprise just one piece in a complex puzzle fraught with conscience issues. The news is filled with stories of modern-day martyrs — the ones who are sacrificing businesses, friendships or family relationships to stand up for the Faith. A woman from Washington state is being sued after choosing not to sell flowers to a gay couple planning a wedding. Starting Aug. 1, small-business owners must choose between buying health insurance that covers contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization, or facing ruinous financial penalties. Church leaders must make difficult decisions, against popular opinion, to dismiss those in Catholic ministry who turn a blind eye to teachings of the Faith.

These are not issues that may affect Catholics someday down the road. They are realities in the here and now — realities we all need to heed. All of us, in the course of our everyday lives, must take our beliefs into consideration when choosing how to live. Mirroring the cross, we sacrifice for what we believe.

To do this effectively, we must be educated in our faith. We can turn to trusted Catholic media to gain a broader understanding of Church teaching and its role in everyday life. We can sign up for adult faith formation classes. We can read and discuss issues with like-minded Catholics, and we can pray for fortitude. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to examine our consciences and look beyond ourselves toward Jesus Christ. In him, we find the way, the truth and the life. 

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor; Sarah Hayes, executive editor