Catholic college reverses course on covering contraception
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When the protests over the new federal requirement that health insurance cover birth control for all female employees were at their peak in April, Xavier University in Ohio made an unusual announcement: it had covered contraception, but wouldn’t any longer.
But the university’s president later changed his mind. Although the change was set to take effect July 1, contraception is still covered under the university’s employee insurance plan, a university spokeswoman said Friday.
The policy change was announced in an interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer, although the decision was made earlier, said Kelly Leon, a university spokeswoman. In the interview, the Jesuit university’s president, the Rev. Michael J. Graham, said he faults himself for his handling of the situation. While he disagrees strongly with the mandate, he told the newspaper, he said he believes universities should set a moderate example for the nation.
When the decision to stop covering birth control was announced, in a letter to employees, Graham had said offering such coverage was "inconsistent" for a Roman Catholic institution.
The Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s health care overhaul, requires almost all employers to provide insurance coverage to women that covers birth control with no copay. The law exempts churches, but not church-affiliated charities, hospitals or colleges. After protests from Catholic and some evangelical Christian employers (the Catholic Church forbids all forms of birth control, and some anti-abortion groups consider the morning-after pill tantamount to abortion), the administration offered a compromise: insurers, not employers, would pay for the coverage.
That wasn’t enough to stop protests from Catholic officials, but in most cases, bishops, not colleges, led the charge. Amid the uproar, Xavier discovered it had been covering contraception, which was not required by state law, and decided to revoke it.
Xavier’s decision -- which would have taken effect in the middle of the health insurance plan period, on July 1 -- provoked an outcry from faculty and staff, in part because the decision would apply to married couples, non-Catholics, and those who did not agree with church teachings on birth control, and because it was made without consulting employees. Faculty met with Father Graham to express their displeasure, Leon said Friday, and he agreed to postpone the change until December.
When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in June, the university decided to continue covering contraception after all, since it would be required as of Aug. 1, 2013, anyway, Leon said.
In an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed, Leon said Father Graham reiterated his opposition to the contraception mandate as a violation of employers’ religious freedom. “Religious institutions have never been asked to violate their consciences in this profound a manner,” he said.
Some Catholic colleges already cover contraception, because they are in states that at least nominally require it (Ohio does not). Xavier was somewhat unusual, both in covering birth control when it was not required and then in publicly reversing that change. Most of its fellow Jesuit colleges had stayed relatively quiet on the matter.
Other Catholic colleges are waiting for the end of the one-year grace period for religious institutions -- which expires next August -- and the outcome of several lawsuits against the contraception mandate to change their insurance policies. Those lawsuits, though, have largely not fared well in court.