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.