In a dramatic stand against Obamacare’s birth control coverage requirement, an evangelical college has opted to end its student health insurance plans altogether so it won’t need to worry about indirectly facilitating Americans’ access to contraception.
According to the Chicago Tribune, officials at Wheaton College, a conservative Christian school in Illinois, are eliminating health care coverage in a move that will affect about a quarter of the college’s 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Now, those students have just a few weeks to shop for new plans before their current coverage ends.
Wheaton’s student development vice president, Paul Chelsen, told students during an information session last week that individuals who are losing insurance may be eligible for “hardship funding” from the school to help them afford new plans.
“I acknowledge that students have been hurt by this decision and I regret that,” Chelsen said during that session, according to a recording that was obtained by the Chicago Tribune. However, he added that the school believes this is the right move because the stakes are too high in the ongoing fight against the health law.
Wheaton College is currently challenging Obamacare in a case that officials hope may make it all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s been an uphill battle for the Christian school; earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled against its arguments.
Essentially, officials at Wheaton object to the religious compromise laid out by the Obama administration two years ago. The workaround requires faith-based institutions that object to birth control to fill out a form to notify the government; then, insurance providers can directly extend contraception coverage to beneficiaries so that the institution itself doesn’t have to be involved. Some religious leaders have accepted this compromise, but particularly right-wing critics of the health law — including Wheaton College — say that even the act of filling out a form makes them too complicit in providing coverage for certain forms of birth control.
The Seventh Circuit’s ruling against Wheaton, which was seeking an emergency injunction against Obamacare’s birth control policy while its legal case proceeds, “hastened the college’s decision to drop the students’ health care coverage,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Other conservative schools have made similar decisions during the contentious battle over Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage requirement. Back in 2012, Franciscan University, a small Catholic college in Ohio, decided to drop its health insurance coverage for students instead of working to comply with Obamacare. Officials there said it was a preventative measure because they were afraid of “one day having to provide coverage for contraception.”
Most religious groups in the United States don’t oppose the use of birth control. Even the vast majority of Catholics — the group whose leadership has been most vocal in opposition to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate — say that birth control is morally acceptable.
Nonetheless, there’s been an ongoing fight over the health care reform law, which requires employer-sponsored health plans to cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception, because some conservative religious groups argue that certain forms of birth control are abortifacients. Wheaton officials are among the right-wing critics who claim that IUDs and emergency contraception can actually end a pregnancy, even though scientists say otherwise.
Wheaton has recently been in the news because of other aspects of its conservative approach to campus life, too. Earlier this month, an openly gay but willingly celibate chaplain resigned from her position at the school within 24 hours of expressing her support for marriage equality, raising some questions about whether she was pushed out.