Catholic institutions such as Georgetown University should be satisfied with the Obama administration’s compromise on the issue of providing no-cost birth control for employees, and they should work with health insurance companies to implement the new plan as soon as possible.
The recent revisions render any claim that the law violates religious freedom moot. Religious institutions will be relieved of the obligation to subsidize plans that cover contraception, giving cries of infringement on First Amendment rights little ground left to stand on. Continued opposition can only be seen as a desire to inculcate non-Catholics with Catholic doctrine — an action that directly conflicts with the Jesuit value of pluralism.
The White House’s decision shifts the responsibility for providing contraception from Catholic institutions to insurance companies, but it is still Georgetown’s duty to ensure that women who want birth control coverage are able to acquire it through clearly outlined means without having to slash through endless red tape.
Students and employees who share the Church’s moral opposition to contraception will be in no way forced to act contrary to those beliefs. But those affiliated with these institutions who believe in the use of contraception will be able to acquire coverage for it directly through health insurance companies. Students and employees seeking coverage make no assertions about what others should do or believe. Those who seek contraceptives want this service for ourselves and cannot afford to spend $1,000 a year on contraception in addition to the $2,000 a year we already pay for Georgetown’s health insurance plan.
The new policy therefore gives non-Catholic employees at these institutions reason to celebrate, but it’s a win-win situation. The truth is that nearly 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use artificial birth control at some point, according to a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute. A recent Institute of Medicine report noted that providing birth control could actually lower abortion rates. Without access to birth control, women may opt for abortion if they become pregnant.
Furthermore, contraceptives like the pill don’t have to be used as such; they often have additional medical uses, like reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis and ovarian cancer. However, in some cases, women prescribed birth control to treat medical conditions have also been denied access through Georgetown’s health insurance plan. A recent article in The New York Times featured a Georgetown Law student who was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. She was prescribed birth control to treat the condition, but Georgetown’s health insurance denied her coverage. She later had to have an ovary removed.
It is therefore essential that Georgetown work with health insurance companies to ensure that the women who work here actually do have access to contraception as required by law. Providing this service is an important aspect of what Georgetown’s spiritual handbook calls cura personalis, that is, “individualized attention to the needs of the other” and “a distinct respect for his or her unique circumstances and concerns.” Georgetown should set the example for the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities by creating clear, well-publicized guidelines for how women can acquire coverage for birth control under this new policy.
Kate Riestenberg is graduate student in the Linguistics department.