University May Be Forced to Offer Birth Control
On August 1st, of this year, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) added additional requirements to the Affordable Care Act which would require all universities, including Catholic schools, to provide women with ample “preventive health services.” The regulations would extend to birth-control and the “morning after pill” at their disposal for no additional cost.
Currently, policy at the Catholic University of America forbids the distribution of any type of contraceptives from Student Health Services.
“It does not take a college education to see the hypocrisy in offering to pay for the very services we condemn in our theology classes and seek forgiveness for in our sacraments,” said President Garvey in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on September 30, which was offered in response to this additional requirement.
For a month following the August 1st announcement, HHS accepted official comments regarding the new guidelines, especially surrounding the “religious employers” exemption, which states that an institution can be excluded from providing contraception if the primary purpose for the organization is to teach religious values, the majority of the people associated with the organization have the same religious beliefs, and the organization is exempt from filing IRS tax form 990.
After fully defined, the criterion benefits only a small group of religious organizations. Catholic charities, universities and hospitals are some of the many institutions that are not included in the exemption, and they are left to provide their communities with things that go against the very morals that make them a Catholic organization.
These new guidelines consist of services such as well-woman visits, screenings for gestational diabetes, DNA testing for human papillomavirus (HPV), counseling for those with sexually transmitted diseases, screenings and counseling for women with HIV, breastfeeding supplies, screenings for domestic violence, and contraceptives such as birth-control and the “plan-B” or “morning after” pill.
The Affordable Care Act not only includes the aforementioned services, but includes the originally mandated mammograms, colonoscopies, blood pressure checks and childhood immunizations. The other services for women were not added until just over a year later, and are to be free-of-charge under one’s insurance policy with plan years beginning on or after August 1, 2012.
According to the official news release by HHS about the matter, private nurses, doctors, scientists, and others performed tests to determine exactly which preventative measures women needed most.
“It should not be the business of the federal government to force Catholic schools and other Catholic institutions into such a collective violation of our own conscientious beliefs,” said Garvey.
Garvey, as well as presidents, religious leaders, and politics professors from many other Catholic schools around the country, published official comments on the issue to HHS.
The Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, a division of the Cardinal Newman Society that promotes teaching and programs centered on Catholic beliefs and values in higher education, organized an appeal that included 18 Catholic colleges and explained the short-term and long-term negative impact the regulations will have on Catholic institutions. Catholic University was not included in the appeal.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops organized a letter to HSS, petitioning that the “religious employers” clause be reconsidered and edited to include Catholic universities, hospitals and charities. It also issued an insert for church bulletin with the headline “Conscience Rights Violated by Sweeping HHS Contraceptive Mandate,” that parishioners or priests could download online and distribute to their congregation.
Notre Dame University also announced their disapproval of the new regulation saying that it would force them to directly contradict Church teaching.
“It would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the Church’s moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the church’s social teaching,” Fr. John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame said in a letter to HHS according to the Catholic News Agency.
These institutions are not denouncing the Affordable Care Act, just urging the government to reconsider exactly who is included under the “religious employers” exemption.
“The current fight is to expand the definition of religious organization so that places like Catholic University will not have to provide contraception and so on in [their] health care plans to employees and students. The issue here is not about contraception, but about conscience,” said Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies. Schneck organized a sign-on letter of Catholic leaders, published two op-eds, as well as submitted his own comments to HHS about the controversial issue.
“Catholic universities shouldn’t be forced to go against conscience or overall doctrine,” said sophomore Isabel Tanco.
While Catholic organizations are petitioning the regulations, hoping to eventually be included in the religious exemption, establishments such as Planned Parenthood are rejoicing at the announcement of the insurance mandate.
“This would be a tremendous stride forward for women’s health in this country,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood in a statement according to PBS.
“If a woman needs to take birth-control for medical reasons, she should be able to have access to it, even at a Catholic school,” agreed sophomore Meghan Herock.
Within the next few weeks, HHS will process and consider all the complaints it received to determine whether or not to include Catholic universities, hospitals and charities in the “religious employers” exemption.
“My sense is that HHS and the administration are being very attentive to our complaints,” said Schneck. “If we convince the administration to support our argument for conscience exemptions for religious universities, hospitals, and so on, it would be very telling about where the administration stands and an important win for conscience protection.”