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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Universities differ on contraceptive policies

Grace Connatser and Alex Langosch
Photo by Caroline White, Morgan Hughes and Matthew Martinez
Jesuit universities across the country vary on options for students seeking birth control

Catholic universities have historically provided their students with unique challenges in obtaining birth control. The vaguely worded prescription policies leave students wondering if they’re qualified, and the federal legislature leaves them wondering if they’re covered. This, in addition to new Trump Administration policies that will allow religious organization to opt-out of covering contraception, leaves the waters murky for students. The Marquette Wire examined policies related to both contraception prescriptions and insurance coverage at 23 colleges and universities.

Birth control prescriptions

Colleges and universities make their own decisions on if students are able to obtain birth control prescriptions at university medical clinics. Each school has slightly different standards, and there is no government oversight dictating those policies.

Many Catholic schools either don’t prescribe birth control at all, or they prescribe it only for non-contraceptive purposes. Marquette is among the latter and will only prescribe birth control for other health reasons.

Birth control is often used to treat menstruation-related complications, like migraines, cramps and irregular menstrual cycles. There are a variety of other non-contraceptive reasons why someone might use contraceptives or take hormonal birth control. Lisa Hanson is a nursing professor with a specialty in women’s health. She explained that hormonal birth control comes in many forms and it contains hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, that are involved in the menstrual cycle.

“Hormonal contraceptives are a very good first-line therapy for menstrual problems,” Hanson said.

Many Catholic schools have a tense relationship with contraceptives. Steve Blaha works in Campus Ministry at Marquette and has worked closely with the pro-life student group Marquette for Life.

Blaha said artificial contraception interferes with God’s intention in creating sex: unity and reproduction. He said artificial contraception “suppresses” those elements of sex. Blaha said that from the Church’s perspective, the purpose of the contraceptive matters.

“If it’s not to suppress fertility, if the provider believes that this treatment is the best for a particular patient who has a particular condition, the primary focus is treating the condition,” Blaha said.

Robin Brown, associate director of student wellness at Marquette and the interim director of the Medical Clinic, said that “keeping with the Catholic teachings regarding birth control,” the Marquette University Medical Clinic does not give out condoms or prescribe contraceptives for the purpose of preventing unplanned pregnancy.

Similar language is used on the Medical Clinic’s page on Marquette’s website, which redirects students to Campus Ministry.

“Students interested in extended conversations or clarifications on sexuality and Catholic teaching are encouraged to contact Campus Ministry staff,” the page reads.

Are contraceptives covered by insurance?

When the Affordable Care Act first passed in 2010, only houses of worship were exempt from providing birth control coverage for their employees because it conflicts with the religious beliefs of the organizations. Some others were exempt from this coverage because of  a grandfather clause that allowed people from some states to keep insurance plans that didn’t meet the standards of the ACA. This clause has been extended a few times but is set to expire at the end of 2018.

Twelve lawsuits were filed against the Obama administration in 2012 by several different Catholic organizations that sought exemptions from providing contraception coverage to people insured through them. A few Catholic universities were plaintiffs in the lawsuits.

One of these suits involving the University of Notre Dame, which referenced an earlier case involving Hobby Lobby, resulted in certain organizations, including religious nonprofits, not having to pay for contraceptive coverage for their employees. Instead, they had to offer them an insurance plan that included coverage for birth control, which would be paid for by the insurer.

Susan Giaimo is an adjunct associate professor of political science and biomedical sciences at Marquette and has written books about health care reform. She said that for some religious organizations, this wasn’t enough.

“Some want to go further,” Giaimo said. “Some say it’s still a violation of their religious beliefs. Even if they aren’t paying for it, they don’t like that their employees can still get it.”

After six years, the president of Notre Dame Rev. John Jenkins announced in February that the school would no longer offer contraceptive coverage to students and employees through its third-party insurer.

Jenkins issued a statement to the faculty and staff explaining the university’s decision to stop offering coverage for contraception to the roughly 17,000 people covered by the plan.

“Stopping any access to contraceptives through our health care plan would allow the university to be free of involvement with drugs that are morally objectionable in Catholic teaching,” Jenkins wrote in the statement.

This announcement encouraged some students dependent on the plan to take action. In June, student group Irish 4 Reproductive Health, along with the help of other women’s rights groups, filed a lawsuit against the university and the Trump administration. This case, and others like it, have yet to be settled.

The Trump administration finalized two rules on Nov. 7 that expand the choosing power of religiously inclined institutions that may have religious or moral objections to covering contraceptives in their employees’ insurance plans. Catholic universities were included on this list.

Under the final rules, any employer may be exempt from providing birth control coverage to their employees due to a religious objection. The rules do not bar any employers from providing coverage. Theoretically, a religiously-affiliated organization could still provide this coverage; however, any employer may file for an accomodation to avoid paying for birth control coverage due to moral objection.

Marquette is among a number of universities that stopped offering students health insurance when the ACA went into effect because it allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. Those who are not on their parents’ plan can still buy coverage on the open market.

For Catholic universities that do provide students health insurance but choose to exempt themselves from covering contraceptives on their insurance plans, students can still get coverage on their own.

Currently, all universities that offer a health care plan for their students must include birth control coverage until the new rules go into full effect and most schools cannot alter their health care plans until the end of the academic year.


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    Patricia McHughNov 15, 2018 at 6:25 am

    As a Catholic, I believe the more humane way to consider normal sexual development is to provide contraceptives. I always thought Jesus taught lessons of love, not shame. Girls should have an on campus place to go to for this information, it could be the much more open, honest, and transparent than the knowledge and conversation she would get at home.