Most of the arguments against the Conscience Protection Rule are bogus – they make it sound as though the government is forbidding the firing of employees who refuse to provide care that violates their consciences, when all it’s doing is threatening to yank federal funding.
The other night on Maddow’s show, her guest was criticising the Conscience Protection Rule on the grounds that it would prevent Wal-Mart from firing a store clerk who refused to sell contraceptives. Maddow didn’t bat an eye at this. What? Is Wal-Mart a federally-funded health care provider? I mean, I know I’ve argued that Wal-Mart benefits from various government privileges, but most of the direct subsidies are local and most of the federal ones are indirect.
It also makes me chuckle to see lefties who are ordinarily – rhetorically at least – on the side of workers suddenly demanding that employers be allowed to fire them. (Can we call the workers who’d replace the fired ones “scabs”? Or would that cause too much cognitive dissonance?)
Some libertarians, like Ronald Bailey, seem confused about this too. (Conical hat tip to Stephan Kinsella.)
But while most of the arguments against the rule are confused, the rule is no great thing either. When so much of the health care system has been unnaturally sucked into the federal embrace, such selective de-funding unfairly limits people’s choices in a way that they would not be limited in a free market. If I and my gang use the violence of the state to gain a near-monopoly of some good or service, our decision to refuse to provide that good or service to people we don’t like begins to look not so innocent.
So I can’t get excited about either the critique or the defense of this law. Indeed, it’s a great example of how the Rawlsian/Dworkinian [Ronald, not Andrea or poor Gerald] dream of a state apparatus that is neutral among its citizens’ competing conceptions of the good is ultimately incoherent. Federal funding for contraception and abortion violates the rights of taxpayers who oppose those practices on moral grounds; selectively de-funding those practices in the context of a heavily statised health care industry threatens people’s reproductive freedom. The only way to avoid injustice is to abolish the state’s entire mass of subsidies, mandates, and prohibitions.