President Barack Obama issued a Health and Human Services mandate Jan. 20 requiring all employers to provide free contraceptives to their employees. The outcry from religious institutions resulted in a compromise. Obama announced Feb. 10 that insurance providers, and not the institutions themselves, would distribute birth control.
Many institutions are not mollified by the compromise, and on Tuesday over 2,500 religious leaders signed a letter to Obama calling for a reversal of the HHS-mandated coverage.
According to the letter, the mandate, “essentially ignores the conscience rights of many Catholic and Protestant Americans.”
While St. John’s is not openly protesting the mandated insurance coverage, Fr. James Maher, executive vice president of Mission, said it opposes the University’s teachings.
“Sexual activity between a man and woman promotes the dignity of faith when it is grounded in God’s love and is both unitive and open to the procreation of human life,” he said in an e-mail to the Torch.
Senior Stephanie Kalousdian supports the mandate, and believes her insurance provider should be obligated to provide her with birth control options.
“Birth control should be included in my insurance because it’s my right to have it as a woman,” she said.
Students for Life, a University organization involved in anti-abortion activism, is planning to protest the mandate. Students for Life President Maurice Aufderheide said members of the group are circulating a petition to reverse the decision.
Fr. Maher believes the Feb. 10 compromise is a good first step in the debate between the Obama administration and Catholic institutions.
“Perhaps the most responsible statement which was reported points to the complexity of the issue,” he said. “The coming weeks will be useful to sort out the challenges between the institutional beliefs of faith based institutions and obligations posed by the law.”
Aufderheide pointed out changes in the wording of the mandate, but said the compromise is ineffective overall.
“The health insurance provider just passes the cost onto the institution [or] employer,” he said. “The Obama Administration thinks that merely changing the wording of the HHS Mandate will trick everyone to the fact that it changes nothing.”
Kalousdian said the mandate is a positive step, and will continue to benefit women.
“It’s a positive move for the future,” she said. “Many women need it for health purposes and if it means people are smarter about their sex lives, I’m for it.”
Junior Alexa Peyton thinks the decision to take advantage of the options provided by the mandate is a personal one.
“It’s a choice a woman should be able to make,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the right choice for all women because of the possible side effects, but it’s a choice that should be available.”
Fr. Maher said the debate provides a platform for discussion between the White House and religious institutions.
“I think there exists a wonderful opportunity to develop a healthy and respectful national dialogue on the value of listening to one’s conscience and religious beliefs in a pluralistic society,” he said. “My belief is that when a democratic society can offer the protection of respect of conscience, pluralism in society is strengthened.”
– Additional reporting by Joanna Adduci, Features Editor