This is the kind of essay that we will see more of. Jerry Coyne argues that religious liberty has no place in hospitals, “even Catholic ones.” The piece nicely combines bigotry in the name of science with an innocence of what actually would happen if he were heeded. It is somewhat shameful that The New Republic would publish such a tendentious piece, but then again, that magazine is not what it once was.
Coyne makes two points. First, he argues that the mere prevalence of Catholic hospital networks means they should have to waive objection to treatments they find morally objectionable – in Coyne’s tragic real life example, that of a woman who needs a caesarean and a tubal ligation. The Catholic hospital agreed to perform the first but not the second (leave aside for a moment whether this is congruent with Catholic teaching, and it is unclear whether the tubal ligation was necessary at the time).
Second, Coyne basically says Catholic institutions can’t be Catholic:
One could [love that could! – ed.] argue that yes, individual doctors who are pious Catholics should not be compelled to perform birth control, even when necessary to save a woman’s life. But, as noted above, the Church Amendment also stipulates that a Catholic hospital itself cannot be forced to perform practices [sic] sterilizations or abortions. Even if its doctors aren’t Catholic, then, and are willing to do the ligation, they must abide by the law and tell Mann to go elsewhere.
Coyne ignores a couple of key points. First, the reason why rights are considered immune from state interference is precisely to avoid the lazy utilitarian argument Coyne sets out. It doesn’t matter if there are many religious institutions or a few, the state cannot abrogate religious freedom in the name of secular goals.
The second point Coyne tries to make is simply unrealistic. If Catholic hospitals allowed non-Catholic doctors to perform procedures contrary to Catholic doctrine, how would a patient even know? Would the hospital be required to keep such doctors on staff, just in case? How about nurses or other employees; would there have to be a quota for them as well? This is another reason why institutional affiliation and exercise of corporate rights makes sense; it eliminates confusion and burden in the exercise of a right. And as Hobby Lobby shows, there is nothing unconstitutional about an institution acting on its beliefs.