Amid the debate over whether religious colleges should be covered by federal requirements that employee health plans include contraception, many have noted that some Roman Catholic colleges have for years had health plans that paid for birth control.
One of them -- Xavier University in Ohio -- this week told employees that they were losing birth control coverage.
The Rev. Michael J. Graham, president of the university, wrote to employees, saying that the national debate prompted him to review the university's policies. He noted that President Obama has proposed a compromise on the issue, under which religious colleges would not have to pay for contraception coverage, but the insurance companies would be required to provide the coverage free. In his letter, Father Graham wrote that this compromise was "insufficient."
Father Graham wrote that "as a Catholic priest and as president of a Catholic university, I have concluded that, absent a legal mandate, it is inconsistent for a Catholic institution to cover those drugs and procedures the Church opposes." He said that he told the human resources office to work with the university's insurance provider to be sure that, by July 1, no coverage is provided for either contraception or sterilization, with the exception of "medical necessity for non-contraceptive purposes."
He closed the letter by saying: "While I recognize the inconvenience and potential hardship this may cause in some circumstances, I trust you will understand why I have required that these steps be taken."
Some alumni responded by creating a petition in which they pledged not to give to the university as long as it blocked contraception coverage for employees. "Never before has Xavier expressed concern with enabling women to access to contraception and other basic healthcare necessities. Yet, when the national political dialogue persistently tramples on a woman's right to make her own healthcare decisions, Xavier follows suit," says the petition. "It's time for Xavier to live out the Jesuit mission of being men and woman for others by demonstrating that the university will not merely play politics with the lives of women."
The university's Facebook page features numerous posts -- many of them angry, but some supportive -- about the announcement. Several posts said variations of "shame" or included pledges never to donate again. Others said that this was an unfair policy at an institution where many employees are not Catholic and many employees of all faiths do not adhere (nor have they felt expected to adhere) to Catholic teachings against contraception. "I'm assuming you will be firing all employees who use birth control, since they are in violation of your stance on birth control," wrote one commenter. "Deeply disappointed in my alma mater," wrote another.
Among the posts praising the university was one from the mother of an alumna: "I just heard the news that XU is following the tenets of the Magisterium regarding the issue of insurance and contraceptives. Kudos to XU!!! My daughter is a '95 graduate. She received an excellent education. I wish my alma mater the University of Dayton would follow Xavier's good example."