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.

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