As the August deadline date approaches for the implementation of the conscience-crushing contraceptive health care mandate, it is hard to escape the irony of the U.S. government’s recent rescue of Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, for conscientiously opposing his own government’s onerous fertility regulations. However, armed with the Supreme Court’s recent authorization of the Affordable Care Act, the contraceptive mandate seems impenetrable especially when it is seen by many as a uniquely Christian issue. Its supporters seem to believe that it is the responsibility of the Church to accept the Contraceptive Mandate in exchange for participating in the 21st century. The Church, however, sees the four main concerns with the mandate as critically relevant not only to Christians but to non-Christians as well:—First, the administration has claimed that equitable health care requires the destruction of a religious employer’s freedom of conscience. However, the ability to destroy one’s freedom of conscience will expose the vulnerability of all other freedoms — including one’s freedom to choose not to contracept. As health care budgets tighten, it is easy to imagine that a couple could be forced to contracept so as not to lose health care coverage for children conceived in excess of potential government limitations of family size. —Second, many couples find life without control of fertility and family size both impractical and impossible. However, they still may find the destruction of early human life, which can occur with several forms of contraception, very troubling. They are keenly aware that this destruction of early human life could ultimately lead to the disrespect of any human life.—Third, the Church believes that the loss of conscience protection, as with military conscientious objection, should alarm anyone who wishes to refrain from actions that are legal but considered immoral. —However, the Church’s greatest fear concerns what is lost when government regulations overwhelm a citizen’s freedom to be moral. Moral freedom is what allows us to rise above the limited morality of law to the limitless morality of goodness. This “morality of goodness” is what drives us to be good even when it is not legislated. It compels us to help others even when we are not obligated to do so. This is the part of humanity that brings us the true greatness found in people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and other moral heroes — heroes such as Dr. King whose conscience we at one time also tried to suppress.People as diverse as transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, Christian Martin Luther King Jr., and Hindu Mohandas Gandhi believed that legislation should prevent moral evil rather than undermine moral goodness or prevent moral greatness. Moral greatness springs from the conscience of those with world-changing dreams who are willing to sacrifice their own well-being for the benefit of others. Moral greatness can protect us from moral disasters such as Watergate, Enron and the Wall Street collapse.What the Church begs of us is not to be perfect but rather to aspire to be good — to attempt the difficult “good” even when it seems impossible. To ask the Church to endorse human imperfection asks it to destroy itself and anyone who wishes its guidance.One may wonder how moral greatness relates to the contraceptive mandate. The Catholic Church’s plea is not to imprison people with overwhelming burdens of family life. Rather, it hopes to allow them the moral opportunity to love as God loves. It believes that God did not create humanity out of need or desire but only from pure love. This same love would later allow God, as Jesus Christ, to sacrifice his life for humanity. The Church asks us to create our children with this same pure love — the great moral love demonstrated by Jesus Christ. It fears that contraception draws us away from this self-sacrificing love for children while we pursue other wonderful but non-essential attractions that surround our daily lives. The Church is well aware that the majority of both Christians and non-Christians contracept. It is even more aware that all humans, including popes and priests, are imperfect sinners. What the Church begs of us is not to be perfect but rather to aspire to be good — to attempt the difficult “good” even when it seems impossible. To ask the Church to endorse human imperfection asks it to destroy itself and anyone who wishes its guidance. Its job, as with the good coach, is to push us beyond the possible, to do the impossible — to excel at goodness. Attempting goodness, even when we fail to achieve it, keeps us striving to live the moral life — a life well beyond what can be defined by simple restraining legislation. To encourage us beyond contraception to the “impossible” task of natural fertility regulation is one way to help us to love as God loves. Many may not agree with the Church’s vision, but to deny the conscience rights of a citizen or an organization creates a dangerous precedent in American politics and law. Henry David Thoreau recognized as much in his famous essay, “Civil Disobedience,” when he asked: “Can there not be a government in which [conscience] decide[s] right and wrong [while] majorities decide only those questions … of expediency?” (paragraph 4).There are alternatives to the contraceptive mandate. Rather than dictate uniformity of action when there exists a plurality of consciences, government policy could allow health insurance companies to offer contraceptive care as a separate or add-on policy. Employees of conscientiously objecting institutions could then purchase this benefit as an addition to their employee benefits. With such a provision, both the Church and those who disagree with it could individually decide the question of conscience. One may not believe that God exists, that Jesus Christ was God incarnate, or even that the Church in its imperfection can legitimately encourage goodness. But we should all take pause, as we did with rescuing Chen Guangcheng, when a government can so easily crush the “act of conscience” of any of its citizens. This is especially true when there are alternatives that are infinitely less threatening to individual autonomy, personal freedom and human goodness.Dr. Timothy J. McNicoll is a family physician in Simi Valley. He earned a master of arts degree in Bioethics from Loyola Marymount University.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0727/hhsmcnicoll/{/gallery}