Contraception and Religious Universities: Yea or Nay?


Okey-dokey. I need to think this thing through and I’m going to use this handy-dandy blog of mine to do so. Bear with me here, because I suspect I’m about to reveal some inconsistencies in my own belief structure. Or maybe just areas where different facets of my belief structure overlap in ways that make me choose loyalties.

Those of you who follow such things may have heard that a few months ago, acting on the advice of non-partisan medical experts, the Obama administration ruled the prescription contraceptives for women count as preventative medicine and therefore must be covered by insurance, with no co-pay, under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. My feeling on that was an unequivocal “Boo-yah!”.  Finally, your Nuva-ring has the same medical standing as Cialis and you can afford not to get pregnant by the boner that insurance-covered erectile dyfunction medication built. This is a win for women, for sure. Removing barriers to access to contraception is a BIG thing for me and I’m prepared to hug HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebiliius for saying “Make it so” on this one.

Predictably, there are religious factions that don’t approve of mandated coverage of birth control. Most of them are the same flap-your-gums-every-time-a-woman-has-an-orgasm-for-fun reactionaries who are behind the execrable “conscience clauses” that allow snoopy pharmacists to  tell women they can’t have their birth control because they think it’s wrong. My head explodes whenever I think of those laws because, well, yeah. The religious right has no place in my pants and I have no place in theirs. Better that we should all have access to contraceptives and those who object to them can abstain. But as a nod to religious organizations, there are some exemptions to the mandated contraceptive coverage rules. I believe that organizations that are religiously based and employ a majority of members of that faith do not have to offer contraception coverage as part of a group insurance plan if it violates their faith. That seems cool to me because everyone involved is clear on the situation and is signed on to the morality they espouse.

However, religious colleges and universities are NOT exempt. Schools like Fordham, and Georgetown, and Catholic University will not have to include coverage of contraceptives to their employees and students for the first time.

That’s the part where I’m not sure how I feel.

On the one hand, I think the conservative religious take on sexuality and contraception is  regressive, anti-feminist and doesn’t take into consideration modern realities, I also think – and think it passionately – that they have every right to believe as they do. Every right to conduct themselves as they please with regard to personal sexuality and contraception. I’m not interested in partaking on a crusade to change the views of any church on sexuality and contraception. For that reason, I’m not celebrating religious universities being forced into covering contraception. I’m actually leaning toward thinking that they should have an exemption.

Now, I think that if a university is granted an exemption to contraception coverage mandates, that should be made plain as day on their website and in enrollment and employment materials. There should be no surprises for a student who goes to the health center looking for a refill on birth control pills or the professor seeking an IUD. But a Catholic school is a Catholic school. If it is part of the Church, it should be allowed certain concessions.

However, I wasn’t consulted and I’m wondering what I’m missing in this larger picture that I’m siding with the more restrictive side of this argument in which I am generally Team Permissive. I know that as little as I want to be forced to comply by the rules of a religion to which I do not subscribe, religious leaders have an equally strong wish not to be forced to conformed to my more secular stance. Like I said, I’m not willing to partake in a crusade to undermine religion or religious institutions and I’m pretty sure religious schools should count as religious institutions.

One thing I can say for sure is that I hope that any school that flouts the ruling gets slammed for violating the law. The Catholic Church and adherence to US legal code are not synonymous in my mind ever since that whole thing where priests who were accused of child abuse were sent to another city instead of to questioning by a DA. Religious organizations are entitled to their own beliefs but they are not exempt from civil or criminal law.

I may come to a giant epiphany about this at any moment and I’ll alert you if I do. Meanwhile, it’s a lot to ponder.

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10 comments for “Contraception and Religious Universities: Yea or Nay?

  1. January 30, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    I hope that students will think long and hard about whether or not they want to attend these schools, knowing this information.

  2. Mae
    January 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    I agree with where you are right now. The churches and straight up religious orgs are no brainers for me… (We don’t force Amish furniture makers to sell on the Internet, after all) but I understand how the catholic universities are trickier, since the employees and those covered (like students) aren’t necessarily OF the faith. But. I think they should get an exemption just the same. It’s not like when you decide to go to Georgetown you’re not aware it’s a catholic school (and if you are, you’re maybe not doing the right kind of research before picking your school) so their stance on pregnancy prevention should NOT be news to you. In addition, you can still purchase the drug. There’s nothing stopping you from getting it but YOUR budgetary discretion. If you can’t afford your preferred method of birth control BECAUSE of where you have CHOSEN to work/attend college AND you’re unwilling to use another method (condoms, abstinence, foam, NFP etc) then you should get a different job/go to a different school.

    In my opinion.

    Great post!

  3. January 30, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    I’m up there advocating for women’s freedoms all the time. I’ve also worked at Fordham University and a few smaller Catholic schools which historically have not covered contraceptives as part of their insurance plans.

    Despite my personal and political leanings to the left, when I accepted my employment at Fordham and the other schools mentioned, I chose to adhere to their policies, values, and teachings. If, at any point, the accessibility of contraceptive became paramount to me, then it was also my choice to no longer work for a Catholic institution.

    Interestingly, when I worked at Fordham, in Residential Life, there was a “co-habitation” policy. It is technically against college policy to have sex. And, in my professional capacity, I had to adjudicate undergraduates for having sex in the dorms. I told them the same thing…they made a choice by enrolling in a Catholic institution that they would meet the value system of the school, at least as far as policy goes. If they could not accept those values or reconcile themselves to them, then there were plenty of secular institutions where the university doesn’t police bedrooms.

    All that is to say, while I think the religious conservatives regularly overstep their bounds as it pertains to reproductive freedoms, I do not agree that Catholic institutions be forced to compromise their expressed values by offering contraceptive coverage.

  4. Delora
    January 31, 2012 at 12:50 am

    I’m failing to see why the janitor at Catholic University can’t get his wife’s birth control covered. I can understand your point about students opting-in to a religious institution, but the law applies to all employees, and I don’t think the service professionals are necessarily working there to support their religious beliefs.

  5. Jen
    January 31, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I also appreciate the exemption for religious organizations, however, I also consider the idea that people need to make their own choices and be responsible for for those choices. If someone is a devote Catholic and follows the laws of the Church, then they will not use birth control. Just because it is available DOES NOT mean every woman is going to, or has to use birth control.

    In addition, if the Catholic universities are receiving government money (and in some way they do, if just in the acceptance of federal grants for tuition) then they need to follow the laws of the land. You can’t have your cake and eat it too…… You can be a private organization and refuse all federal funding (and request an exemption), or you have to accept that with federal funding you must submit to federal regulations.

  6. Rebekah @ Mom-In-A-Million
    January 31, 2012 at 10:48 am

    This is why I put issues like this on my blog. You all are bringing up such good points that I hadn’t considered!

  7. amy
    January 31, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    As always, I applaud your writing and blog. You always bring out great issues and explain them in ways that even Sarah Palin can understand.

  8. February 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    My company’s medical insurance provider is a Catholic organization. So…they still don’t have to pay for my birth control, right?

Comments are closed.