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Contraception coverage still on the grill

December 6th, 2012

The recent presidential elections highlighted some of the biggest issues on the modern political agenda. As politicians on both sides of the aisle rallied for support, it became apparent that health care is still a major concern for most Americans.

JCU has also had a voice in the health care debate, as 47 faculty members signed and sent an appeal to the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J. JCU President in February, “requesting Niehoff work with other presidents of Catholic colleges and universities to urge the bishops to reduce the intensity of their rhetoric and endorse a policy to allow faculty insurance coverage of contraception while respecting religious liberties,” according to a March 1 article in The Carroll News.

During the presidential race, decision-making was slowed down so politicians could focus on their campaigns. However, now that President Barack Obama has been re-elected, the health care debate has resumed and is making several new developments.

As it stands, “A federal appeals court on Wednesday, Nov. 28 temporarily blocked the enforcement of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate while a Catholic business owner appeals a lower court’s ruling that tossed out his suit,” according to an article in The Washington Post.

For JCU, this means that no decisions will be made any time soon.

Paul Lauritzen, the professor in the theology and religious studies department who drafted the initial faculty letter, stated, “As I understand it, John Carroll University considers its plan ‘grandfathered’ under ACA because it has not made significant changes since 2009.”

This means that JCU is “not required to provide the preventative services mandated by the Affordable Care Act,” according to Lauritzen.

Niehoff, said in an email, “The Supreme Court decision and the election attracted a lot of attention; however, it is important to remember that the regulatory process is not over. That, combined with the numerous pending court cases, means this issue will continue to play out in the weeks and months ahead.”

Through email correspondence, Lauritzen explained that if the plan is altered in certain ways, it will no longer maintain its ‘grandfathered’ status and will thus be required to offer the mandated services.

Niehoff has been discussing this issue at the local and national level.

“My conversations with Catholic and Jesuit university presidents about this also continue, and religious liberty is still the central issue for Catholic leaders,” said Niehoff. “There is a narrow definition of religion embedded inside the HHS mandate, and that is the focus in the majority of these cases.”

As discussions continue on all levels, Lauritzen noted that no one’s voice is irrelevant in this debate. “Because it directly affects the health care coverage of all those employed full-time by John Carroll University, it has a more immediate impact on the faculty, staff and administration of the University than it does on students,” he said. “But that does not mean that students’ voices are unimportant.”

He also clarified his personal beliefs on the morality issue, rectifying a misrepresentation of his views in the March 1 Carroll News article regarding the contraception discussions: “Access to contraception is important for the health of women and children and that fact makes it a moral issue.  For that reason, I would urge students to attend to the many studies that show that access to contraception contributes to public health.”

Lauritzen emphasized the importance of keeping this discussion open and respectful, noting that he finds much of the rhetoric from the United States Council of Catholic Bishops to be offensive.

“Faculty who support the mandate have every right to express our views, and it is important that those views be known locally and nationally,” he said. “Fr. Niehoff called for civility and respect.  How respectful is it for a bishop to compare President Obama to Hitler and Stalin?  Surely Fr. Niehoff doesn’t condone that kind of comparison.”

Reiterating the motivation behind the first letter sent to Niehoff, Lauritzen added, “When bishops use offensive rhetoric, when some bishops essentially endorse a particular candidate, shouldn’t their motivations be questioned?”

So, while cases are tried in federal courts and congressional debates continue, JCU will not be forced to adopt any changes to its health care plan in the foreseeable future.

However, Lauritzen said, “The issue of complying with the law is not going away.  When the University next changes its plans, we will be required to address the issue directly.

Editor in Chief Dan Cooney contributed to this article.