Evangelical College Ends Students’ Health Insurance Altogether To Avoid Covering Birth Control
Students have just a few weeks to shop for new plans.

In a dramatic stand against Obamacare’s birth control coverage requirement, an evangelical college has opted to end its student health insurance plans altogether so it won’t need to worry about indirectly facilitating Americans’ access to contraception.

According to the Chicago Tribune, officials at Wheaton College, a conservative Christian school in Illinois, are eliminating health care coverage in a move that will affect about a quarter of the college’s 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Now, those students have just a few weeks to shop for new plans before their current coverage ends.

Wheaton’s student development vice president, Paul Chelsen, told students during an information session last week that individuals who are losing insurance may be eligible for “hardship funding” from the school to help them afford new plans.

“I acknowledge that students have been hurt by this decision and I regret that,” Chelsen said during that session, according to a recording that was obtained by the Chicago Tribune. However, he added that the school believes this is the right move because the stakes are too high in the ongoing fight against the health law.

Wheaton College is currently challenging Obamacare in a case that officials hope may make it all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s been an uphill battle for the Christian school; earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled against its arguments.

Essentially, officials at Wheaton object to the religious compromise laid out by the Obama administration two years ago. The workaround requires faith-based institutions that object to birth control to fill out a form to notify the government; then, insurance providers can directly extend contraception coverage to beneficiaries so that the institution itself doesn’t have to be involved. Some religious leaders have accepted this compromise, but particularly right-wing critics of the health law — including Wheaton College — say that even the act of filling out a form makes them too complicit in providing coverage for certain forms of birth control.

Federal appeals courts haven’t been very sympathetic to this point of view, and have consistently ruled that submitting a form does not pose a substantial burden to religious liberty.

The Seventh Circuit’s ruling against Wheaton, which was seeking an emergency injunction against Obamacare’s birth control policy while its legal case proceeds, “hastened the college’s decision to drop the students’ health care coverage,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Other conservative schools have made similar decisions during the contentious battle over Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage requirement. Back in 2012, Franciscan University, a small Catholic college in Ohio, decided to drop its health insurance coverage for students instead of working to comply with Obamacare. Officials there said it was a preventative measure because they were afraid of “one day having to provide coverage for contraception.”

Most religious groups in the United States don’t oppose the use of birth control. Even the vast majority of Catholics — the group whose leadership has been most vocal in opposition to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate — say that birth control is morally acceptable.

Nonetheless, there’s been an ongoing fight over the health care reform law, which requires employer-sponsored health plans to cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception, because some conservative religious groups argue that certain forms of birth control are abortifacients. Wheaton officials are among the right-wing critics who claim that IUDs and emergency contraception can actually end a pregnancy, even though scientists say otherwise.

Wheaton has recently been in the news because of other aspects of its conservative approach to campus life, too. Earlier this month, an openly gay but willingly celibate chaplain resigned from her position at the school within 24 hours of expressing her support for marriage equality, raising some questions about whether she was pushed out.

h/t: Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress Health

Is this a joke? Did President Obama really release a Presidential Proclamation for Religious Freedom Day?!

Mr. President, If you are sincere about religious freedom, stop the HHS Mandate and don’t force religious groups to violate their conscience by making them cover contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs!

Read his proclamation and weep: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/01/16/presidential-proclamation-religious-freedom-day

When ‘Religious Liberty’ Was Used To Deny All Health Care To Women And Not Just Birth Control

If Hobby Lobby wins, it may not just be birth control that’s on the chopping block.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga Wood Specialties’ claims that they should be exempt from their legal obligations to provide a full range of health coverage — in this case, contraceptive care for women — because they object to providing this coverage on religious grounds. Yet, for women who worked for a California private school in the 1980s, this lawsuit must feel like déjà vu. Nearly three decades ago, the Fremont Christian School claimed a similar right to deny health coverage to its female employees, citing its religious beliefs as justification for doing so. Fremont Christian’s case does bear one important difference from Hobby Lobby’s, however, they did not just want to deny birth control to their employees — they wanted to deny all health coverage to many of the women in their employ.

Fremont was owned by a church which claimed that “in any marriage, the husband is the head of the household and is required to provide for that household.” Because of this belief, they had a very unusual compensation package for their employees — though Fremont offered a health plan to its workers, the plan was only available to “heads of households” which Fremont interpreted to mean single people or married men. When a woman became married, she was to rely on her husband for health care.

(In what Fremont described as an “act of Christian charity,” there was an exemption to this rule. A married woman could receive health benefits if “the husband is incapable of providing for his family, by virtue of non-working student status, or illness” though the school also emphasized that “the husband is still scripturally the head of the household.”)

Offering one set of employee benefits to men and a different, inferior package to women is a blatant violation of federal civil rights law, which prohibits employers from “discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” While Fremont claimed that their religious liberty gave them a trump card, a federal appeals court disagreed. “Congress’ purpose to end discrimination,” the court explained, “is equally if not more compelling than other interests that have been held to justify legislation that burdened the exercise of religious convictions.”

So could a victory for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cause the courts to rethink Fremont Christian? Probably not. Society’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination against women is widely accepted, even by conservative judges, and Fremont Christian is an extreme case. Nevertheless there is reason to be concerned about what happens with religious employers who push the envelope only slightly less than Fremont Christian School did.

The Supreme Court has long recognized that the “First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” But a decision in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood’s favor would place courts in the awkward position of picking and choosing among religious faiths. What happens to sects of the Jehovah’s Witness faith, who have religious objections to blood transfusions? Or to faiths that object to certain vaccines? Or to Scientologists who object to psychiatry? Or to Christian Scientists who object to modern medical science altogether?

If Hobby Lobby wins, are these faiths now empowered to deny health coverage to their employees as well? And if not, why not? If the Court rules in Hobby Lobby’s favor, it will either need to abandon its longstanding neutrality among religions, or it will need to allow every sect to exempt itself from health coverage laws that it does not want to follow — including, potentially, sects like the one in Fremont Christian. Moreover, Hobby Lobby’s brief argues that any law burdening an employer’s religious exercise must survive “the most demanding test known to constitutional law.” That is not a good position to be in if your employer objects to blood transfusions or mental health care.

Although there is a superficial basis for Hobby Lobby’s argument, they are asking the Court for a massive shift in the law. For decades, the Supreme Court has respected the principle that one person’s religious liberty stops at another person’s body — and this is especially true in the business context. As the Court explained in United States v. Lee, “[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” If the law were otherwise, Lee warned, employers could “impose” their “religious faith on [their] employees.”

Any decision favoring Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood will have to drive a massive hole through Lee. The essence of both businesses claims is that they should not have to follow the same health care laws that apply to all other businesses, and that employers should be able to limit their employees’ ability to obtain contraception because the employer objects to its use. But once Lee falls, it is not at all clear what rises in its place, or how easily courts are going to be able to draw a distinction between relatively narrow claims like Hobby Lobby’s and sweeping attempts to deny health care like Fremont Christian’s — not to mention the many grey areas in between.

h/t: Ian Millhiser at Think Progress Justice

HHS Mandate is unconstitutional.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

A Catholic insurance company would be an establishment of a religion.  Furthermore, forcing an individual or company to supply something that clearly goes against their faith would be prohibiting the “free exercise thereof.”


Okay. A friend of mine just posted this on Facebook, and I just really need to say something.

For starters: no one is trying to ban contraception. Can we please just accept this and move on? All the religious organizations are asking for is a conscience clause to be added so we don’t have to pay for someone else’s contraception. It’s just like we would never expect a Jewish rabbi to buy a year’s worth of pork for us, but we don’t claim that he’s trying to “ban pork." 

Going onto the argument at hand, comparing saving someone drowning to someone getting an abortion is unfair. From the viewpoint of someone who is against abortion, the act of getting an abortion is killing a human life (and science nor anything else has suggested or proven otherwise). So in order for the lifejacket comparison to be fair, one must include that if that person wearing the lifejacket begins to drown, a human sacrifice must be made in order to save that person. Although we are not trying to ban contraception, I believe that if this were the case in order to make lifejackets effective, there would be a movement to ban lifejackets. 

But no, comparing saving someone’s life in a situation where no one else has to die in order to do so, is not the same as an abortion. Studies have shown that the use of sunscreen increases one’s likeliness to spend great amounts of time in the sun, because they feel safe, even if it says to reapply every two hours, and they’ve been on the beach for four. This is comparable to contraception. Sex would not be so readily acted out if there were no such thing as contraception. The thing is, studies show that it is only 99% effective when it is both the pill and a condom used at once. We all know that it isn’t perfect, just as sunscreen isn’t perfect. No one laughs at the study that shows sunscreen encourages unsafe sun exposure, so why is it laughable that contraception would encourage unsafe sexual behavior? 

All the while, with lifejackets and sunscreen, you are not putting anyone else’s life at risk. I would be willing to bet that if someone tried to develop a lifejacket that included a baby carrier, it would be banned, because then someone, who cannot do anything to save themselves, else’s life is in jeopardy if a situation arose where the lifejacket needed to be used. 

No one is trying to fight adoption. If you find yourself "in this mess” of an unwanted pregnancy because the contraception failed, or you were “pushed” into the water, no one is suggesting you be forced to drown. It is disgusting to live in a world where the idea of giving a baby away is much less tolerated than ending the baby’s life. If a mother were to have a baby, and six months into the baby’s life, decide that it was too much work and making her depressed, no one would find it acceptable for the mother to then kill the baby.

Also, it is true: the only 100% effective way to prevent drowning is to avoid the water. Why is this a ridiculous idea? 

In a society where everyone’s beliefs are considered ultra sensitive and worth protecting, I cannot understand why the religious people are seen as the crazy ones. It does not make sense to me that those who do not want to distribute contraception or pay for another person’s abortion are somehow worthy of less respect and tolerance than people who religiously follow PETA or other organizations that actually want to make everyone follow their set of rules.

Certain religions believe that contraception is an act of evil. If you disagree, fine. Go ahead and use contraception. It’s similar to how Muslim women wear certain garb. What do you think would happen if feminists or others decided that this garb was oppressive to women, and tried to make them wear the same clothing we do? I understand that it’s not a point-for-point comparison, because those who want religious organizations to provide their contraception do not expect those who are opposed to contraception to use it, but the concept still holds through. Those religions who want an exemption believe the use of contraception is not good for the body, the soul, or society, just like many people believe that if someone were to go to work buzzed or hungover every day, it would not be healthy. If someone wants to go to work buzzed every day, that’s their prerogative, but do not expect those who think it is wrong to provide to those who do not see any problem with it.

If you’re in the water and begin to drown, by all means, use the lifejacket, so long as you do not pull the boatman into the water, take off his lifejacket, and force him to drown in the process. 

Supreme Court Struggles In Hobby Lobby Case With Question Of Companies' Religious Rights

WASHINGTON – Justices on the Supreme Court seemed to struggle Tuesday with the question of whether a private company can get out of a federal law by citing the religious beliefs of its shareholders.

Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a Christian-owned crafts supply chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., owned by Mennonite Christians, are challenging the provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires for-profit companies to include all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives in their health insurance plans.

Hobby Lobby’s attorneys argue that the law violates the company’s constitutional right to religious freedom by forcing it to cover all forms of birth control or pay steep fines. The company’s owners are morally opposed to intrauterine devices and emergency contraception, believing it to be a form of abortion, though medical studies have debunked that claim.

The contraception mandate does include exceptions for churches and a special accommodation for religiously affiliated nonprofits, such as schools and hospitals. But for-profit corporations are required to cover the full range of women’s preventative care, including birth control, intrauterine devices and emergency contraception, at no cost to their female employees.

If Hobby Lobby wins, and the Supreme Court rules that companies have a right to exercise religious freedom that exempts them from complying with federal law, the decision could have a far-reaching impact beyond women’s health. For instance, such a ruling could open the door to more controversial laws like Arizona’s recently debated “religious freedom” bill, which would allow businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people.

The ruling also has the potential to get businesses out of having to comply with minimum wage and hiring discrimination laws, Social Security taxes and vaccination requirements, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. wrote in a brief he filed on the case this month.

“Allowing a corporation, through either shareholder vote or board resolution, to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation,” Verrilli argued in the brief.

Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius mark the first time the Supreme Court has taken up an issue related to the new federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama since the court upheld the law back in 2012. In that case, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the controlling opinion finding the individual mandate was constitutional as a tax.

This time around, Justice Anthony Kennedy potentially could return to his common role as the court’s swing vote. Kennedy wrote the broad opinion in the Citizens United case, which found that the First Amendment prevented the government from limiting independent expenditures by corporations, but he’s also been one of the court’s strongest voices for gay rights, which could be negatively impacted if Hobby Lobby gets its way.

The ruling will be a very close one either way come June. Hopefully, SCOTUS sides with Sebelius. 

h/t: Ryan J. Reilly and Laura Bassett at HuffPost Politics

Radical Right Domino's Pizza Founder Sues Over Obamacare Contraception Coverage Mandate

DETROIT – The founder of Domino’s Pizza is suing the federal government over mandatory contraception coverage in the health care law.

Tom Monaghan, a devout Roman Catholic, says contraception isn’t health care but a “gravely immoral” practice.

He filed a lawsuit Friday in federal court. It also lists as a plaintiff Domino’s Farms, a Michigan office park complex that Monaghan owns.

Monaghan offers health insurance that excludes contraception and abortion for employees. The new federal law requires employers to offer insurance including contraception coverage or risk fines.

H/T: HuffPo

Five Reasons Contraceptive Coverage Is Essential

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court hears Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores,which argues that the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a direct attack on religious freedom of for-profit companies.

As an OB-GYN and a patient advocate, I want to move the discussion out of the courts for a moment and into my clinic, to focus on the lives of women and their families. I feel an immense sense of responsibility to the women I care for, and part of that responsibility includes advocating for insurance coverage of birth control.

Here are my top five reasons for why contraceptive coverage is essential and needs to be protected.

1. Contraception saves lives. I realized this the moment I placed my patient Rosa’s intrauterine device (IUD) while she was in the ICU for a condition called peripartum cardiomyopathy, a cause of heart failure during pregnancy. Rosa (not her real name) was transferred to our hospital in florid heart failure and suffered a stillbirth at eight months of pregnancy. While I was counseling Rosa on her contraceptive options, she told me that she had wanted an IUD after her first pregnancy, when she faced similar complications. However, she was unable to get an IUD then because of restrictions on contraception at the religiously affiliated institution where she received medical care at the time. Fortunately, I saw her at a facility where she could utilize her insurance and get the care she needed. Rosa’s story is similar to that of many women for whom pregnancy can be life-threatening. Ensuring access to the full spectrum of contraception is a vital part of comprehensive women’s health care.

2. Contraception helps build healthy families and healthy communities. Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Women with unplanned pregnancies are at greater risk for preterm birth, low birth weight, and delayed prenatal care, whereas planned pregnancies have better birth outcomes. Numerous studies have shown that increased access to contraception leads to a reduction in unintended pregnancy and birth rates, leading to healthier outcomes for mothers, babies, and families.

3. Contraception is one of public health’s top ten greatest achievements. It’s right up there with vaccines and water sanitation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, access to contraception has improved birth spacing and has led to smaller families, which in turn “have contributed to the better health of infants, children, and women, and have improved the social and economic role of women.” The young women I see in my clinic are from all walks of life but many will be the first in their families to graduate high school and attend college without having their dreams interrupted by an unintended pregnancy. Contraception is as valuable as any other preventive public health measure that has made a positive impact on our society and thus, like clean water, should be accessible to all.

4. Contraceptive coverage would allow a woman to choose the method that is right for her, not just the one that fits her budget. From 2007 to 2011, the Contraceptive CHOICE Project conducted a large prospective cohort study of almost 10,000 women in the St. Louis area to determine what would happen if cost was not a factor for women seeking birth control. The study found that when financial barriers were removed, 75 percent of the study’s participants chose a long-acting, highly effective method (an IUD or contraceptive implant), which typically has a high up-front cost of hundreds of dollars. In today’s economy, when families are struggling to pay for basic needs, the cost of contraception can be overwhelming. Cost should not be a limiting factor to the provision of quality preventive care. Not every woman can use a generic pill or other lower cost birth control methods. It is critical that women have coverage for the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods so health-care providers can work with each patient to determine what works best for them.

5. Contraception has many health benefits. In addition to preventing pregnancy, some contraceptive methods can also decrease the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and ovarian and uterine cancers, and treat other gynecologic conditions such as endometriosis and heavy bleeding. As a resident, I cared for Patty (not her real name), who was diabetic, struggling with infertility, and who also had irregular bleeding because of a condition called endometrial hyperplasia, which carries a risk of uterine cancer. After she and I came to the decision of optimizing her overall health and treating her condition before she would resume trying to become pregnant, I was able to place her hormonal IUD, which resolved her hyperplasia as her overall health improved. She and her husband now have a beautiful daughter, and Patty continues to use an IUD.

Affordable family planning services are essential to building healthy families and communities. I hope that when the Supreme Court justices consider the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores case, they recognize the value of contraceptive coverage to all Americans.

h/t: Dr. Tania Basu at RH Reality Check