Catholic colleges and the HHS contraception ruling

Another angle of this story, from the New York Times:

Bridgette Dunlap, a Fordham University law student, knew that the school’s health plan had to pay for birth control pills, in keeping with New York state law. What she did not find out until she was in an examining room, “in the paper dress,” was that the student health service — in keeping with Roman Catholic tenets — would simply refuse to prescribe them.

As a result, students have had to go to Planned Parenthood or private doctors to get prescriptions. Some, unable to afford the doctor visits, gave up birth control pills entirely. In November, Ms. Dunlap, 31, who was raised a Catholic and was educated at parochial schools, organized a one-day, off-campus clinic staffed by volunteer doctors who wrote prescriptions for dozens of women.

Many Catholic colleges decline to prescribe or cover birth control, citing religious reasons. Now they are under pressure to change. This month the Obama administration, citing the medical case for birth control, made a politically charged decision that the new health care law requires insurance plans at Catholic institutions to cover birth control without co-payments for employees, and that may be extended to students. But Catholic organizations are resisting the rule, saying it would force them to violate their beliefs and finance behavior that betrays Catholic teachings.

“We can’t just lie down and die and let religious freedom go,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The administration’s rule has now run headlong into a dispute over values as Republican presidential contenders compete for the most conservative voters. In an election season that features Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who have stressed their Catholic faith, scientific thinking on the medical benefits of birth control has clashed with deeply held religious and cultural beliefs.

The Obama administration relied on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine, an independent group of doctors and researchers that concluded that birth control is not just a convenience but is medically necessary “to ensure women’s health and well-being.”

About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and about 4 of 10 of those end in abortion, according to the Institute of Medicine report, which was released in July. It noted that providing birth control could lower both pregnancy and abortion rates. It also cited studies showing that women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to be depressed and to smoke, drink and delay or skip prenatal care, potentially harming fetuses and putting babies at increased risk of being born prematurely and having low birth weight…

…The Catholic Church considers it morally wrong to prevent conception by any artificial means, including condoms, IUDs, birth control pills and sterilization.

Some Catholic colleges are likely to ask for a yearlong delay in implementing the rule on birth control coverage, said Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. In the longer run, he predicted in a statement that either Congress or the Supreme Court would invalidate the rule. Belmont Abbey College, which is Catholic, and the interdenominational Colorado Christian University have already sued the Department of Health and Human Services, arguing that the birth control requirement violates the right to freedom of religion.

Birth control is considered a “preventive service” under the new health care law, but Mr. Galligan-Stierle said such services should be limited to preventing disease, not pregnancy.

“We do not happen to think pregnancy is disease,” he said. “We think it’s a gift of love of two people and our creator.”

Despite Catholic teachings, surveys have found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women, as in the general population, have used contraceptives.

At Catholic universities, some students support the right of the schools to uphold religious doctrine. But others, particularly professional and graduate students, have found the restrictions on birth control coverage onerous. Undergraduates are often covered by their parents’ insurance, but graduate students are usually on their own and are more likely to be married or in relationships and in regular need of birth control.

At some schools, students say the rules are so stringent they have a hard time getting coverage even if they need birth control pills for strictly medical reasons.

Read more.


  1. Unplanned pregnancies lead to poor prenatal care so we should encourage more use of contraceptions???? Is this their way of saying they care about the unborn? I do not understand how people who think it is okay to kill a baby in the womb can worry about prenatal care. Conflicted to say the least.

  2. I like how the Times describes that group of doctors as “independent,” inoculating them from any possible bias or criticism. The Church is independent as well, independent from the world and immune, in her official teaching, from the fads, whims and idiocy of the present age, especially on matters involving human sexuality.

    The “independent” group of doctors seem to have overlooked a fundamental principle of Catholic morality, i.e., premarital sex is not permitted. Their claim that the contraceptive pill is also essential for women’s “health and well-being” is equally astonishing given the reams of evidence of how unhealthy it is for women. I would not be surprised if this group were by and large on the payroll of bigPharma.

  3. “…The Catholic Church considers it morally wrong to prevent conception by any artificial means, including condoms, IUDs, birth control pills and sterilization.”

    That’s not the entire issue here, not by a long shot. In the example of the Fordham student et al., it would also force the Church to participate in acts of fornication, adultery, etc. It forces complicity in all of these sins by aiding in the deception and the attenuation of the consequences. But it also does more.

    It forces the Church to participate in the distribution of chemical agents such as the progestin/estrogen pill which the World Health Organization has added to its Group 1 Carcinogens List, those agents known to cause cancer. It occupies the same list as plutonium, uranium, and arsenic. But it also does more. It lies.

    It doesn’t tell women that a major study conducted by a group containing well-established pro-choice researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research and the National Cancer Institute show that oral contraceptives are implicated in Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which is the deadliest, most aggressive, and difficult to treat form of the disease. Here’s the chilling data for women based on age at first use:

    Age 22+: 250% increased incidence
    Age 18-22: 270% increased incidence
    Under Age 18 : 540% increased incidence

    These are the Multivariate adjusted case-control odds ratios, by age 45.

    The study:

    Risk Factors for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer in Women
    Under the Age of 45 Years.

    Jessica M. Dolle,1 Janet R. Daling,1 Emily White,1,3 Louise A. Brinton,4 David R. Doody,1
    Peggy L. Porter,2 and Kathleen E. Malone1,3
    Divisions of 1Public Health Sciences and 2Human Biology, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; 3Department of Epidemiology, University of
    Washington, Seattle, Washington; and 4Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Maryland

    Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2009;18(4). April 2009

    There are many reasons behind the immorality, and not all were present to Pope Paul VI when he distilled the Church’s 2,000 year teaching on the subject. Through our discoveries, scientists often think God’s thoughts after Him.

    Finally, in an attempt to lower the incidence of breast, liver and cervical cancers from the pill, the doses have been cut to 1/7 of what they used to be. This means that women must take the pill at precise times daily, and that being off schedule by even an hour or two can lead to loss of the contraceptive effect for that month. That means lots more unintended pregnancies and abortions.

    If the bishops don’t stand firm here, where they have an abundance of medical science to support them, they’ll never stand for anything.

  4. ron chandonia says:

    This purported news story certainly does offer an “angle” on the issue at hand: the editorial stance of the NYTimes that the official teaching of the Catholic Church on human sexuality is ridiculously out of touch with the realities of modern life and the thinking of educated and intelligent people. Their position is all the more convincing because so many American Catholics not only agree but probably welcome the tone of moral indignation in which articles like this are written.

    But on what exact basis do the newswriters/editorialists at the Times claim the moral high ground in this debate? A line near the end of the piece is especially revealing. The Fordham law student who is the heroine of the story is hoping to confront Archbishop Dolan at a public speech, but is devastated when the moderator denies her the floor: “Ms. Dunlap’s queries did not make the cut. Her frustration nearly brought her to tears. ” In other words, if I don’t get my own way, I’ll feel really, really bad. Can’t have that, can we? Case (against the Church) closed.

  5. It amazes me that more “educated” women don’t realize the extent to which the pill objectifies them sexually. Pop that pill and you can have sex whenever you want, without consequences (usually). But they don’t seem to realize that their chemically-induced infertility makes it very easy for men to use them for their own pleasure, and then walk away. The Time doesn’t write articles about the internal emptiness the pill frequently causes.

  6. “Some, unable to afford the doctor visits, gave up birth control pills entirely.”

    While not being able to afford doctor visits is a bad thing, this seems like a great result. Of course, replace ‘birth control pills’ with insulin, chemotherapy, etc, and we are looking at a terrible situation. But as far as we Catholics are concerned, birth control pills aren’t medication. They are, when used as contraceptives (and not as, say, a way to control dysfunctional uterine bleeding or some such thing), evil. So it’s not like insulin. It’s like saying that you can’t afford to buy pornography.
    You can’t afford your vice? Well…boo hoo.

    But really, given how harmful b.c. pills are, it’s also like saying you can’t afford to buy cigarettes.

    That some have given up birth control pills is a wonderful thing, both for the sake of their health and for the sake of virtue. We can only hope that this causes a change in lifestyle.

  7. Bill McGeveran says:

    “Independent” doctors say covering contraceptives is medically necessary to ensure “health and well being”? To me, the “health” part sounds dragged in. I’m not convinced that any health plan should be required by law to cover contraception, still less that there should be no exception for religious organizations. And I dont think a person who has chosen to be a student or employee of a Catholic university should be too surprised or indignant that the school health service does not feel in a position to give prescriptions for contraceptives. However, on the other hand, what is really jarring is the 98% statistic (more fully discussed in, e.g., a Deacon’s Bench post last April). The disconnect between the official church teaching on contraception and what Catholics believe and do is enormous. Does this prove the church is wrong? No. But an argument that so few Catholic people buy deserves serious reexamination.

  8. Bill,

    How should we reexamine the argument? I don’t think the argument is at issue here, so much as the narcissism and hedonism that fuel the sexual revolution, which in turn fuels contraceptive consumption. The issue isn’t Humanae Vitae. It’s the lousy job our clergy have done collectively at evangelizing.

    The scientific literature is increasingly bearing out the sagacity of Humanae Vitae. It will eventually break through the resistance from the culture of death. All we need are more victims, more deaths and disfigurements, more human misery to fuel further epidemiological analyses. Eventually, people will catch on.

  9. Yeah it’s really trying to push sympathy for their situation, but even if I were to take a liberal view

    One: These girls can just get their guy to buy, or have, condoms. Also I know women who were quite poor that got Norplant or manage to get contraceptives of some kind.

    Two: If you’re choosing a Catholic college, particularly as a grad student, you should have some sense what that means. If I were to go to a Mormon college I wouldn’t expect wine even if it was seen as good for my heart. (Granted I don’t like wine, but still)

  10. Bill — I agree the 98% figure is jarring. If I understand the Church’s teaching correctly, then 98% of Catholics are participating in a defined intrinsically evil undertaking. That then marks them, according to Catholic doctrine, as damned to hell absent some death bed remorse.

    If the current state of Catholicism is a 98% damnation rate then serious reexamination is indeed needed.

  11. Gerard — The scientific data stated may or may not be accurate. That is not my area of expertise. But to cite it as an argument seems not to be a religious one and as such is not in the realm of morals, which is the stand I thought the Catholic Church takes on this issue.

    To offer the thought “I know what’s in your best health interests better than you do” seems like a secular parent hovering over the child that has already left the nest. It has basis on fear of what will happen to one’s body.

    The Church is the religious parent and the only valid argument should be one of religious doctrine — fear of what will happen to one’s soul. The doctrine should be sound enough to stand on its own merits morally.

  12. Jake,

    You couldn’t be more wrong. The commandment to honor one’s mother and father is the only one with an added promise: “That you may live a long life in the land you are about to enter.”

    Nothing there about souls and eternal life. Obedience to God’s law is based upon God’s knowledge of His own wise design and what happens when we stray.

    Jesus tells us that He came that not only we might have life, but have it more abundantly. The Church has not only the right, but the moral duty to point to what science has to say. Why? Because as the Church teaches, God not only reveals Himself through His word, but also through His creation.

    The Church is in the business of not only saving souls, but also in promoting the abundant life of which Jesus spoke. Any time the Church can point to the empiric data gleaned from God’s creation and in so doing point to His wise design, she has an obligation to do so.

  13. naturgesetz says:

    Jake —
    You’ve oversimplified. People do not go to hell for participating in an intrinsic evil. They go to hell for unrepented mortal sin. Grave evil is only one part of mortal sin. There must also be knowledge that it is evil and full consent of the will. When most Catholics do not understand how one’s conscience is properly formed and the role of the Magisterium in it, and therefore believe that they have a right to make up their own minds on contraception, the element of knowledge is lacking, and so it is probable that the vast majority of those who contracept are not committing a mortal sin.

    Still, the statistic points to the need for better catechesis both on contraception and on proper formation of one’s conscience.

  14. I agree. I shudder every time our young priest says that use of contraception is a “mortal sin.” It is grave matter, yes. But only God and the individual know if the other two elements of mortal sin are present.

  15. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Thank you, naturgesetz, for clarifying something that is seriously and widely misunderstood.

    Dcn. G.

  16. I stand corrected and better educated.

  17. Bill McGeveran says:

    Gerard, I can’t really give you a good answer right now, other than to say, while some people evidently do find the (I would say rather abstract) argument against birth control convincing, I never did. With regard to narcissism, human nature being what it is I am sure most of us are more selfish than we should be. But I don’t really think people’s moral failings are at the bottom of the widespread refusal to credit this doctrine. In fact, though I am sure you would not agree with this, I give some weight to the failure of this teaching to have been persuasive to so many good, if not perfect, people over the years.

  18. The 98% statistic is a total manipulation of the facts. Every time I see it used, I get fired up. The question from Guttmacher was if you EVER used contraception. Well, 98% of Catholic women said, “Yes.” That doesn’t mean that 98% are STILL USING a form of contraception. This was a sample of 7,000 women that we do not know much about. The CDC interviewed these individuals across the country, and a large population sample came from ages 15-19. How is that possibly a representation of women or Catholics?

  19. ron chandonia says:

    I was pleasantly surprised to see that Margaret Steinfels over at Commonweal actually agrees with me that this piece is an anti-Catholic editorial thinly disguised as a news story. Here’s what she said on the Commonweal blog:

    “The story by Denise Grady on the NYT front page (of the edition I saw–traveling) was an op-ed representing the editorial view of the NYTime[s]: there goes the crazy Catholic church again!”

    And in a clarifying comment:

    “My point: The front page is a news page. Was that a news story? Sure, it had news in it, news directed to one point of view…a view that the NYTimes happens to champion.”

  20. friscoeddie says:

    When I was married student in the 50s at a Catholic college[Jesuit too] we were taught that in order to use ‘rhythm method’ we had to receive permission in confession.
    It was considered baloney . we were right about that too. That’s why there are few, few, even fewer… 6-12 children families now…baloney turns rancid as it gets older.

  21. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    That the fact the Catholic Church will fight to protect its rights from government power and coercion is a modern, living example of why some historians claim that individual freedom grew up in the West under the umbrella of the Church protecting herself from government tyranny, oppression, and coercion.
    There are certainly ways a government can set up a medical system that does not trample on the consciences or rights of its religious citizens. That this administration seems determined to follow the most radical anti-religion course that is even angering many liberal Catholics who were once allies of this adfministration is rightly earning it the label: anti-Catholic from many.

  22. I have a question then – how many people really do something that they believe is evil? Don’t most people act thinking that what they do is justified? They may be mistaken as to that justification when looked at objectivley, but if they sincerely believe subjectivley that what they are doing is not evil, then is it not evil? Wouldn’t that be relativism? I am not trying to disagree – I am just curious.

  23. JohnScanlon says:

    I see history repeating itself in this matter. Recall Nathanson’s disclosure that the pro-abortion advocates of the late 1960′s (and forward) used an hierarchical (upon the bishops) attack to divide Catholics into two camps on abortion. NARAL was involved in a significant fashion in this bit of politics.

    Today it’s NARAL, again, and Planned Parenthood whispering into the ear of Obama and his chief henchwoman (Sibelius) to ‘divide and conquer’ on any matter Catholic. No moral analysis, no conscience question, merely pure and simple politics.
    Decades of American history and millions of preborn deaths have changed the landscape. No one anymore can honestly say the Catholic’s position that a severing of human sexuality from its natural procreative functionality is not related to a full range of life issues.

    The Supreme Court’s very recent ruling (9-0) in ‘Hosanna Tabor’ also provides hope. There is a true bar against most governmental interference upon religious freedoms grounded in the Establishment Clause. Litigation may be necessary. It will, however, be successful; thus placing the ‘correlation of forces’ where, more or less, they ought to be in a free society.

  24. pagansister says:

    Women and men are, if I understand correctly, were given “free will”. It seems, at least from the article and in my personal experiences with some of the Catholic women I know, that some use that free will choice, to prevent unwanted pregnancies by using methods the Church disagrees with. They choose to not let the Church enter into what is personal, their sex life. Their choice, IMO, is between them and their God.

  25. I have a daughter who goes to a Catholic college and who uses its health services. She uses an approved birth control method. She is a virgin.

  26. @Jake – Catholic religious doctrine is that the body and soul are united, and that after death, the soul will be resurrected in union with a glorified body. (see CCC 362-365, 988ff, etc.) So what we do to our bodies is indeed a moral issue.

    Consider the absurdity of applying your argument to other issues: if scientific evidence shows that human activity is destroying the environment, or poisoning poor people, or causing dangerous working conditions, or any other harmful effect, should the Church (or anyone else who claims moral authority) utterly disregard this in their moral considerations? Would you disregard it in making decisions about your own life?

    Religion, and especially the moral teaching of religion, is not a private affair. It has practical effects on how real people live their lives, and how we form our society. We live in a pluralistic society with many different religious perspectives; this does not mean that these perspectives should cease to engage in the world.

  27. “They choose to not let the Church enter into what is personal,”

    A truly bizarre statement if ever there was one. Religion always enters into what is personal most especially one’s relationship with God. Your so-called Catholic friends are sadly uninformed.

  28. Joe Cleary says:

    I think the press ( both catholic and secular) is missing a truly amazing result of the HHS contraception/ sterilization coverage mandate. It is something that most liberal bishop, the most conservative cardinal, the most traditional catholic TV preacher nor the most ” progressive” Catholic journals have not been able to make happen in many years.

    Anyone notice but – there is a broad Catholic UNITED response – left/ right / center – condemning this decision. When is the last time that happened?

    Politically, I do believe that a concession to Catholic affiliated organizations is in the works. Not because I believe the administration believes it is the right thing to do but because the loudest cries are coming from catholic D’s in congress and they will get killed with ads next fall showing nuns toiling in hospitals next to the words ” they donate their entire lives to care for the sick for free, now in return for a lifetime of service to the poor, Obama and Congressman Jones forces them to violate their sacred vows and finance free sterilization and birth-control”

    (Give the Wall Street Journal props for tracking this liberal catholic parting with white house almost right away)

  29. pagansister says:

    Like I said, RomCath, IMO, it is between the women and their God. That relationship shouldn’t be judged by others. IMO, everyone’s relationship to their God or Divine Being, is different and extremely personal. One really can’t be told how to relate in that relationship. They can be guided perhaps in a religious relationship to their God, but in the end, it is still their choice as to how it actually is. Also, my friends were not “so-called Catholic” They were practicing Catholics who attended Mass on a regular basis and were and are raising their children in the Faith. What is a “so called Catholic” anyhow? Would that be someone who didn’t practice the Faith as you feel it should be done? Just wondered.

  30. pagansister says:

    Just reread the statement, RomCath, about how “uniformed” my so called Catholic friends are. They are NOT uniformed—infact they are highly intelligent, very well informed women. Just thought I’d add that.

  31. naturgesetz says:

    I’d say if they don’t know it’s evil, it’s still objectively evil, but it’s not a sin.

  32. I’m partly just skeptical that what the schools are doing even does what you say. As I understand it they’re saying they don’t want to support birth control or insure for it. The NYTimes articles point seems to be that by not doing that they are making women’s choices for them, but frankly I don’t buy it. Contraceptives, devices, and condoms are ubiquitous in our society. Many places have clinics where you can get them for low-prices or almost free.

    Accepting people are going to make choices you disapprove isn’t the same as being forced to aid that.

  33. Regina Faighes says:

    @williambauer: Your daughter uses the only method of birth control that is 100 percent effective! God bless her!

  34. Regina Faighes says:

    IMHO: There needs to be more education and preaching about the virtues of preserving one’s virginity before marriage.

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