.- Representatives of Catholic colleges voiced disappointment in a new federal rule finalizing the requirement to include student health plans in a controversial new contraception mandate.
Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, said the mandate will undermine the efforts of every Catholic family that “chooses a Catholic college to ensure an appropriate Christian environment for their daughter.”
Reilly told CNA on March 19 that the requirement violates religious freedom and will be helping to “supply promiscuous college students.”
Under the mandate, he explained, a college freshman girl will be able to arrange for a free “tubal ligation or an IUD or the abortion-causing drug Ella, covered without copay by the insurance plan offered by her Catholic institution.”
On March 16, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule on student health plans under the health care reform law. The regulation will require colleges to treat student health plans like employee plans, making them subject to the administration’s contraception mandate.
The controversial mandate has come under fire in recent months because it will require employers to offer health care plans that include coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
Catholic colleges and universities do not qualify for the narrow religious exemption to the mandate. Rather, they will likely fall under a second set of guidelines that the Obama administration describes as its “accommodation” for religious freedom.
The implementation of that accommodation has not yet been finalized and is currently the subject of a 90-day public comment period.
However, initial statements by the administration have suggested that religious organizations will be required to contract with an insurance provider – or third party administrator, in the case of self-insured organizations – that will offer the coverage that the organizations find objectionable.
“This doesn’t surprise me,” said Mike Hernon, vice president for advancement at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
He explained that the administration had expressed its intention of including student health plans in the mandate from the very beginning, and the final rule has simply “made it crystal clear” that the administration intends to go through with its plan.
“This is a violation of our First Amendment freedoms,” Hernon said, explaining that university chooses not to cover products and procedures that are contrary to Church teaching in its voluntary health plan for students.
Students choose to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville “because they want to be part of a culture that support life and the mission of the Church,” he said, adding that the mandate “flies in the face of that.”
Hernon explained that in order to live out its mission as a Catholic institution, everything from hiring decisions to the formation of the curriculum at the university is “completely intertwined with the Catholic faith.”
The mandate attempts to force the university to separate its teaching in the classroom from its action in the health insurance plans that it provides, he said.
Larry Morris, general counsel for The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., agreed.
He explained that the required inclusion of student health plans is “no less offensive” than the original requirement to offer the objectionable coverage to employees.
The regulation uses the “same compulsion” to turn the university into an “instrument of the government” in carrying out actions that are contrary to Catholic teaching, he said.
Several colleges have filed lawsuits against the administration arguing that the mandate violates their constitutionally-protected right to religious freedom.
In addition, numerous religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have voiced support for legislation to protect the conscience rights of both religious organizations and faithful individuals throughout the country.
The Cardinal Newman Society has stated that “the fullest protection of religious liberty for Americans is possible only by rescinding the federal mandate.”
It has called on Catholic colleges across the country to “clearly and publicly oppose this mandate and the Obama administration’s inadequate religious exemption” until the religious liberty of both individuals and institutions is secure.