Free contraception regulations combat free will

Published: January 26, 2012, 1:56 am ET
Opinion Editor

When I was a freshman, contraception was a joke. The pail of complimentary condoms outside each resident adviser’s door led to laughter – but was always empty – and free condom stickers cheerfully adorned bulletin boards and mini-fridge doors.

Sex was a joke, too. My most memorable sight was a fellow freshman running around on Halloween dressed as a giant sperm. He was unprotected.

Now that I’m a senior, a struggle between church and state is preventing sex and contraception from being taken lightly. Robert Pear of The New York Times reported that most health insurance companies are required to finance female contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives, after the Obama administration rejected requests by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church to exempt employees of Catholic colleges, hospitals and charities from the rule. The rule comes into effect Aug. 1, 2012, but many church-affiliated organizations will be given until Aug. 1, 2013 to make the switch, Pear reported.

Obama’s decision creates at once a triumph and a crisis. The rule allows women’s rights to prevail over imposed costs by giving women the opportunity to freely – literally – choose how to care for their bodies. But the rule complicates the separation between church and state, with the government disrupting the way religious organizations approach medical care, without compromising their beliefs.

“It certainly is difficult to adhere to the church’s teachings when one is in the minority as is the case right now,” said Maggie Egger, president of Spiders for Life and a member of the Campus Catholic Ministry.

”There certainly will be people who are confused as to who is right – the government or the church. However, I think Obama’s decision damages our Constitution more than it damages the church. The church is 2,000 years old, and it has survived attacks a lot worse than this.”

More noticeable is that First Amendment rights are in jeopardy, Egger said.

When I first read the ruling, I viewed it as a leap in elevating women’s rights and accessibility to female health care. I had not considered that Obama was not merely stepping on the church’s toes, but stomping on them. In the way I would be opposed to having extremist religion shoved down my throat, church officials must be outraged by the disruption of anti-religious regulations in their daily spiritual procedures. I had not considered that the church might translate free contraception into the freedom to sin.

“We as human beings always have had the free will to sin if we so choose,” Egger said. “But just because sin is a fact of life does not mean that the church should be forced to endorse it.”

There is a possibility for compromise. Obama could allow church-affiliated organizations to keep their free will and withhold free contraceptive treatment as they see fit. And women could exercise their free will in choosing what to do with their bodies. If that means going against the church’s wishes, perhaps they can find an alternative health care provider.

At the University of Richmond, we rarely encounter this limitation of free will. Condoms are free; they have been billowing out of baskets in the Student Health Center for at least 15 years, according to a member of the nursing staff.

“Since Richmond is a private, non-affiliated school,” Egger said, “it has the freedom to provide whatever services and products it wants. It bothers me as a Catholic because it encourages a culture of promiscuity. Other than that, I don’t think it affects Catholic students in any new way.”

Students, religious or otherwise, can take the condoms if they want them. If it unsettles their spiritual sentiments, they can leave the tiny packages in the pile. There are no limitations.

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  • Christine Parker

    “It’s outrageous in general that a group of utterly unqualified men have so much say over women’s health issues, but it’s particularly absurd considering just how out-of-touch the bishops are with the vast majority of the American Catholics they claim to represent. According to Catholics for Choice, 98% of heterosexually active Catholic women have used a method of birth control banned by the church. In 2009, 63% of Catholic voters said they support health insurance coverage for contraception. In addition, only 14% agree with the Pope’s view that abortion should be illegal and Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as other women. In short, Catholic women are just as fond of their reproductive health care as the rest of us.”

  • Christine Parker

    “‘It bothers me as a Catholic because it encourages a culture of promiscuity.’”

    Slut-shaming, also known as slut-bashing, is the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior” (Alon Levy, Slut Shaming). It is damaging not only to the girls and women targeted, but to women in general an society as a whole. It should be noted that slut-shaming can occur even if the term “slut” itself is not used.

  • Jennifer Johnson

    I applauded President Obama’s move for empowering women to control their own sexuality and reproductive activities. I think the church versus state argument is irrelevant. Clearly, if a religious organization is affected by this policy, then they are affiliated with and receiving funds from the government and secular healthcare organizations. Also, as noted by a woman in another thread on Facebook, not EVERYONE who works at religious institutions subscribes to that particular religion. The answer of “find another job” is discriminatory. For a church to be able to be angry about this, they must provide their own healthcare and make their own provisions in their policy. As Katie notes, just like tiny condoms in a pile, you can choose to not be on birth control. It will not add to a “culture of promiscuity”, but will help keep those who would have been sexually active anyway safe (STD-free). Christine’s point on slut-shaming is a good one as well, and the statistics she provides are illustrative of my previous point. If you think sex is sin, that’s your opinion, but people are going to have sex REGARDLESS. Wouldn’t you rather them sin and be healthy and sin or (GASP) not have out-of-wedlock children? Just a thought.

    • Maggie Egger

      I only answered the questions that Katie specifically asked me. I answered them honestly. I didn’t call anyone a slut, and it is true in many cases that contraception encourages promiscuity. I have many friends who are sexually active and I don’t consider them sluts, nor do I look down on them or judge them because of those choices.
      That being said, my main issue with Obama’s decision is that it completely flies in the face of freedom of religion. “The government shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF.” Regardless of whether you (or even Catholics) agree with it, it is the Church’s teaching that contraception is sinful, and therefore the should not be forced by the government to go against its teaching and provide contraception coverage to its employees.
      I told Katie that this situation is analogous to the government saying to a Quaker, “Well, the draft is really necessary to win this war, so regardless of your religious convictions, we are drafting you. Oh, you have a one year grace period to prepare yourself.” That would be prohibiting the free exercise of religion. So is this.

  • Rory Quinlan

    Can you guys stop calling those condoms “tiny”? They’re a perfectly normal and respectable size.