In the realm of political and cultural debates, the issue of who bears the burden of proof is crucial but seldom discussed. For instance, the debate regarding the HHS mandate is operating with the assumption that the burden of proof rests upon the mandate’s opponents. That the burden of proof falls upon us makes sense, given the facts of the case. Having the power of the State, the Administration went on the offensive, and unless we can convince our fellow citizens that the mandate is a bad idea, we will lose the argument. (Whether SCOTUS saves us in the short term may be another matter; it depends how much certain Justices follow public opinion.) Further, most Americans accept contraception, sterilization, and chemical abortion as a matter of course. Just yesterday I was a guest on a local television news program here in the capital of a deep red state, and the news story that ran right before my appearance was a puff piece on how many men schedule vasectomies during March Madness so that they can recover on the couch while watching basketball. Nothing in the report suggested that the procedure could be the least controversial; indeed, the peppy, nubile, smiling reporter closed the segment by wearing glasses and a T-shirt from the Oregon Urology Institute’s “Snip City 2012″ campaign, promoting vasectomies during March Madness.
So State aggression and contemporary cultural commitments mean the burden of proof is on us. But it shouldn’t be, and that’s a point we should make. For the HHS mandate to be considered a good thing, the Administration should show beyond a reasonable doubt that forcing every single insurance plan to cover contraception, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs is good for both (1) women and (2) society at large.
The Administration cannot meet a reasonable burden of proof. (Whether our sensate body politic can see that is a different matter.) As regards women, chemical contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients break something not broken in working against one’s body and reduce women to an object (see the Bad Catholic’s “Ten Reasons the Pill Sucks” on the matter). Chemical contraception is powerful stuff (indeed, the WHO classifies the Pill as a carcinogen; see also here), and any surgery is rough on the body. (And yes, I know I’m male, but here’s one of the many women who would agree that “contraception isn’t healthcare.”) As regards society, well, Pope Paul VI nailed that and other things in Humanae Vitae.
Of course, many would disagree, even though the medical and social science is clear. The root of our disagreements here lies in rival conceptions of the human person and the Good. Supporters of the mandate essentially think that human persons are individual wills inhabiting discrete corporal machines, and the good involves the fulfillment of desire. Opponents generally think that human persons are (among other things like intellect) not just wills but also bodies, and that the good of human persons depends on one’s relationality with other human persons in community. To the former, the mandate looks good because it advances arbitrary freedoms (sex without consequences, career fulfillment) of women (and also men). To the latter, the mandate looks bad because it harms bodies (as well as minds and wills) and in harming individual persons and the institution of marriage it harms us all. No one is an island.
That said, the medical science and the social science is clear; contraceptive culture has had deleterious effects on women and society. The problem is, given the culture’s investment in the radical autonomy of the will, most people don’t really care. But some do, and those persons of good will who care are generally open to a well-reasoned and -delivered argument, and so we ought to press the issue regarding the Administration’s burden of proof.