Northwestern students, Evanston organizations react to revised birth control policy

Jia You

President Barack Obama announced Friday that religiously affiliated institutions will not be required to provide birth control coverage for employees – a move that has allayed the fears of some groups and angered others.

The revised Affordable Care Act now requires the insurer, not the employer, to provide birth control free of charge for female employees in religiously affiliated hospitals and universities. The change came after pressure from religious groups and Catholic lawmakers, who said the policy infringes on religious freedom.

Under the Affordable Care Act, female employees would not need to co-pay for birth control. It is unclear yet if the act will affect Northwestern’s health insurance plan for students, said Christopher Johnson, the University’s director of risk management and safety.

Currently, students on NU’s health insurance plan pay $10 per prescription for birth control, Johnson said.

NU mandates that students have health insurance under the student’s own plan or the one the University offers. Johnson declined to comment further on the amended rule.

SESP junior Bonnie Alexander, co-director of the pro-choice campus organization College Feminists, said she supported Obama’s decision.

“I do think it’s a win-win situation,” Alexander said. “He actually did a very nice job in his new accommodation to religious organizations, but he also addresses the really serious need for women to have full contraceptive coverage.”

Medill junior Ceri Roberts, a Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators (SHAPE) member, said the new policy “makes sense” to her.

“I certainly agree that everybody should have access to whatever they need, as cheaply as possible,” Roberts said. “People try to make this into a big social issue, but it’s a health concern.”

Under Obama’s revised rule, Saint Francis Hospital, 355 Ridge Ave., would be able to maintain its current policy of not providing contraceptive coverage to its employees.

Linda O’Dwyer, a spokeswoman for Saint Francis Hospital, said the hospital agrees with the official position of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, which said in a news release Friday it is “very pleased” with the White House announcement.

“The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed,” the Catholic Health Association said in the news release.

Others argued Obama’s new stance still encroaches on religious freedom.

“It’s a dangerous situation for the entire country,” said Rev. Andrew Wawrzyn, associate pastor at St. Peter Catholic Parish, 8116 Niles Center Road, in Skokie. “I’m appalled that the president now has authority, as chief executive of our land, to tell insurance companies what they can or cannot do.”

Wawrzyn said the change in policy is not a viable compromise.

“Catholics, whether they be policy holders or whether they be employers, will still be cooperating with evil,” he said.

Mary Deeley, pastoral associate at Sheil Catholic Center at NU, said she saw the policy as an “attempt” to strike a balance between religious freedom and women’s access to birth control.

“Is this the best thing he could have done?” Deeley said. “I don’t know.”

NU’s Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators and Campus Crusade for Christ executive board members said the organizations do not have an official stance on the issue.

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