.- Xavier University president Fr. Michael J. Graham, S.J. has directed the Jesuit school to stop its health plan's insurance coverage of contraception and sterilization.
“As a Catholic priest and as president of a Catholic university, I have concluded that, absent a legal mandate, it is inconsistent for a Catholic institution to cover those drugs and procedures the Church opposes,” he said in an April 2 letter to members of the Xavier University community.
Fr. Graham said he reviewed the university’s policy amid controversy over the Obama administration's federal mandate requiring insurance coverage of contraception and sterilization under the new health care law.
The priest explained that the Catholic Church finds these drugs and procedures “morally problematic.” He has asked the university’s Office of Human Resources to work with Humana, the university’s insurance carrier, to no longer cover sterilizations and contraceptives “except for cases of medical necessity for non-contraceptive purposes.”
The change is intended to take effect July 1.
“While I recognize the inconvenience and potential hardship this may cause in some circumstances, I trust you will understand why I have required that these steps be taken,” Fr. Graham said.
The move drew some criticism the Xavier University faculty committee, which questioned whether the university president’s decision violated the principle of shared governance with the faculty. It also asked whether he has the right to make changes to health coverage plan in the middle of the year.
“We would like to see if insurance law permits an employer to change benefits after six months that employees are expecting for the entire year,” the committee said in an April 2 letter.
The committee also questioned the decision’s timing, observing that if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Affordable Health Care Act which allowed the mandates, then the coverage will be mandatory. It speculated that the U.S. bishops were involved.
“We can only assume (the) U.S. Catholic bishops decided to compel Catholic institutions that are not already mandated by state law to provide this coverage to come out publicly against it,” the faculty letter said.
The committee said it is “very concerned” about the precedent the bishops’ possible involvement may set in “weakening the semi-autonomous status of our university.”
CNA contacted Xavier University to determine whether the bishops were involved in the university’s decision. Spokeswoman Debora Del Valle said the university is not making any statements on the topic.
The faculty committee added that it was “heartened” by Fr. Graham’s distinction between birth control and medical need.
Shannon Byrne, Xavier University faculty committee chair, has invited faculty to a meeting to discuss the new policy.
Under the current Health and Human Services contraception rule, by next year all employers that do not qualify for a narrow religious exemption must provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs. The Obama administration has proposed a change to the rules mandating that insurance companies, not employers, provide the coverage.
While supporters of this proposal see it as a compromise, Fr. Graham said the proposal is “insufficient for a number of reasons.”
“(I)t is likely that the constitutional issue of religious freedom at the heart of the controversy will be decided by the courts,” he said. “Several lawsuits have already been filed toward that end.”