DENVER May 15 A small Catholic college in Ohio
said Tuesday it was dropping health insurance coverage for
students rather than comply with a federal mandate that the plan
provide free birth control.
The Franciscan University of Steubenville "will not
participate in a plan that requires us to violate the consistent
teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human
life," according to a bulletin to students posted on the
Not only will the university drop its own plan, but it will
no longer require its undergraduates to carry insurance, the
bulletin said. "We didn't want to put them in a situation where
they would have to violate their conscience," said Michael
Hernon, a vice president at Franciscan University.
Fewer than 200 of the 2,500 students at the campus in
southeast Ohio had been buying insurance from the university,
The Obama administration announced earlier this year that
insurance plans have to provide free contraception starting this
summer, including the "morning-after pill," which prevents
pregnancy if taken within a few days of unprotected sex.
The administration considers birth control a preventive
service which must be covered by all plans, akin to diabetes
screening, childhood immunizations or mammograms.
The Catholic Church teaches that the use of artificial
contraception is a sin, though polls show the vast majority of
Catholic women of reproductive age have used birth control at
some point. Many Christians consider the morning-after pill to
be an abortifacient because it can prevent a fertilized egg from
implanting in the womb.
Obama tried to accommodate Catholic outrage over the mandate
by giving religious institutions an extra year to comply and by
assuring them they would not have to pay for the birth control
coverage themselves; their insurers would pick up the tab.
That appeased some Catholic groups but many others,
including the powerful U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,
remain implacably opposed.
Several Catholic and evangelical Christian universities have
challenged the contraceptive mandate in court. Those cases have
not yet come to trial. Hernon said Franciscan University is
weighing a lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a challenge
to the broad health-care overhaul that is one of Obama's
signature domestic accomplishments. If the Patient Protection
and Affordable Care Act is invalidated by the Supreme Court, the
contraceptive mandate would likely fall by the wayside as well.
With the new health insurance year set to start in August,
however, administrators at Franciscan University chose not to
wait for the court's ruling. In addition to the contraception
mandate, they said they were concerned that premiums for the
student plan would rise because the Affordable Care Act also
mandates other specific services be covered.
So the bulletin advised students that they should begin to
figure out "how you are going to provide for accidents or
The university will maintain its health insurance plan for
faculty, for now. That plan does not cover birth control. Hernon
said administrators are "looking at all the options" as they
decide how, or whether, to continue the plan in the future if
the contraceptive mandate is upheld.
The university, which was founded 60 years ago to serve
World War Two veterans, is ranked as one of the top-tier private
colleges in the Midwest. It boasts on its website that its
academics and culture are "grounded in a passionately Catholic
(Editing by Todd Eastham)