University addresses birth control controversy

A fierce lobbying effort on the part of Catholic and other religious institutions led President Obama to compromise on a preventative care insurance mandate.

Insurance companies will pay for contraceptive coverage for women working at Catholic institutions, such as Seton Hall University, as of Aug. 1, 2013.

Previously, the mandate, announced by Obama and formulated with the Department of Health and Human Services, required Catholic institutions, such as hospitals and universities, to provide contraceptive coverage.

The cost of the coverage would have been borne by the institutions, but the compromise asks the insurance company to pay for it instead.

Other organizations have to provide such coverage by Aug. 1, 2012, according to a New York Times article.

“The Obama administration’s ‘accommodation’ does nothing,” said the Rev. Msgr. Joseph Chapel, an associate professor of theology said. “If anything it insults the intelligence of all parties.”

According to Chapel, the distinction between the employer paying for contraception and the insurance company paying for contraception was more of a difference in wording than in practice.

“Who pays?” Chapel said. “The idea that insurers pay instead of employers is of course facile. Insurers get the money from those who pay for the insurance, so one way or the other it will still be subsidized by those who have objections in conscience.”

The response from many Catholic institutions and officials, including Seton Hall, has been much the same, framing the mandate as a blow to the freedom of religion.

As a member of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities Seton Hall “strongly endorses,” the ACCU’s position on the Department of Health and Human Services ruling regarding mandated contraception coverage, according to Laurie Pine, University spokeswoman.

It was not immediately clear whether Seton Hall employees’ insurance plans currently cover preventative care, though a 2005 New Jersey law requires all health insurance and medical providers to cover prescription female contraceptive drugs and devices in the same way that other prescription drugs are covered, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Religious employers, though, can be granted an exception as long as they provide written notice to their current and prospective subscribers about the exemption.

Joe Mondy, a spokesman for Cigna, the company that provides coverage for Seton Hall employees, declined to comment on whether the company provided preventive care coverage.

All further questions to Cigna were directed to the America’s Health Insurance Plans trade association, which represents the health insurance industry, according to its website.

According to AHIP’s press secretary, Robert Zirkelbach, the association is “concerned about the precedent this proposed rule would set.”

Zirkelback added that the association would say more once it better understood how the mandate would actually be implemented.

Seton Hall philosophy professor Judith Stark, Ph.D., said the much of the debate on contraception has been hijacked – “especially by the far right,” – and made it incredibly difficult to have a logical discussion about artificial contraception.

“If there’s anything to do, it’s to turn down the volume and have a healthy, rational discussion,” Stark said, adding that universities, especially a Catholic University such as Seton Hall, would be a good place to begin such a conversation.

“It’s well known that Catholic women use artificial contraception,” about as much as the rest of the national population, Stark said.

While different studies reveal differing percentages of Catholic women who have used artificial birth control, a “Fact Checker” article on the Washington Post found that Catholic women do use artificial contraception at about the same rate as non-Catholics.

“Priests should sit down with married (Catholic) men and women” to better understand how Catholic people feel about contraception, Stark said.

Stark added that men needed to be included in the discussion more because, presumably, they agreed to use artificial contraception as well.

For students, however, the mandate will not have much of an effect, according to Mary Elizabeth Costello, Seton Hall’s director of Health Services.

Per the Catholic mission, Health Services does not write out prescriptions for contraceptives, though Costello noted the center will perform STD checks and similar services.

Students who have health insurance through the school can go to an outside doctor should they want or require contraceptive services, and the insurance will cover the medication the same as if it were any other prescription.

Costello said that there was an exemption for students in the school-sponsored health insurance plan for elective abortion.

“That would not be covered no matter the provider,” Costello said.

Caitlin Carroll can be reached at

Author: Staff Writer

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