Contraceptives policy raises controversy

By Chelsey Boutan

A government policy introduced by President Barack Obama has spurred a reaction from religious leaders, politicians, and people across the country, including DeKalb.

The revised policy is a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and will require all health insurance plans to cover women’s preventative services, including contraception, without charging a co-pay or deductible. The law will go into affect beginning in August 2012.

Obama’s original policy required all employers, including religious organizations, to pay for contraception coverages. The revised mandate exempts religious organizations from paying for these services and instead requires insurance companies to offer the coverage.

Obama said at a White House press conference on Feb. 10 that the policy would give women more control over their health and help make contraception more affordable.

“We know the overall cost of healthcare is lower when women have access to contraceptive services,” Obama said. “Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives and yet more than half of all women between the ages of 18 and 34 have struggled to afford it.”

Although churches and other places of worship will be exempt from having to abide by this law, other religious organizations will still have to offer insurance that covers contraception. This has caused some people to dislike the policy and to see it as a violation of their religious freedom.

‘The compromise not really’

According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services news release, all FDA-approved contraception methods can be provided to women at no cost as part of the mandate. Some of these include birth control pills, vaginal contraceptive rings and emergency contraceptives like “morning after pills.” Abortions and drugs that cause abortions like RU-486, which can be used up to 9 weeks after a woman’s last period, are not covered by this policy.

All forms of contraception are not supported from the Catholic standpoint, said Alex Deltoro, associate pastor at the Newman Catholic Student Center in DeKalb.

Father Matthew Camaioni who works with Deltoro, called Obama’s policy, “the compromise not really,” because he said it still requires Catholic institutions to be indirectly involved with something they see as an “immoral action” against their conscience.

In a press release, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said the rescission of the contraceptive mandate was the only solution.

“But stepping away from the particulars, we note that today’s proposal continues to involve needless government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions,” the press release said.

Camaioni said some religious institutions like Catholic schools are self-insured. The Catholic dioceses pay into the insurance and thus will indirectly pay for the cost associated with offering contraception to women employees, he said.

Even if a Catholic organization isn’t self-insured, it is still wrong for them to have insurance that offers contraceptive services because they are cooperating in something they believe to be “seriously evil,” Camaioni said.

“I see this as a violation of religious expression in that it’s asking persons of faith to act contrary to their morals that are informed by that faith,” Camaioni said. “It’s forcing someone to act against their conscience.”

Artemus Ward, associate professor of political science, said the free exercise clause in the first amendment protects individuals and groups who want to practice their religious beliefs.

At the same time, Ward said there are limits on religious freedom and it is an open question as to whether or not the contraception mandate infringes on religious groups’ first amendment rights.

“Is this part of the free exercise of religion or not? That’s something we don’t know,” Ward said. “That’s the claim that the Catholic groups are making that it’s essential to their religious beliefs and the government shouldn’t infringe on that. Well this is the trouble. Are contraceptions a religious issue? The Catholic church says yes. The Obama administration is considering it a health issue. So perhaps they are both.”

‘Blown out of proportion’

DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen said the controversy surrounding the contraception mandate has been “blown out proportion” by conservative politicians who are using “political rhetoric” to make a statement.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin reportedly called Obama’s contraception mandate an “un-American act.” At a rally in Colorado, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called it an “assault on religion.”

“I think there’s no use for fear-based politics in this country, and that’s what I see this as,” Povlsen said. “The only reason it’s being highlighted right now is because there is an election coming up.”

Freshman undecided major Breana Calloway sees the policy as more of a step forward in women’s rights, than a political ploy.

“It gives women the ability to choose what they want to do,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing, because it will stop a lot of unwanted pregnancies and more people will be able to afford birth control.”