Birth Control vs. The Church

Should insurance plans at Catholic colleges be forced to cover birth control? The Obama administration thinks so, as the New York Times gleefully reports. Of course, the Times‘ piece is less a news story than it is an editorial against the Catholic Church, but it’s an illuminating read as a case-in-point of this new morality of entitlement that has stitched into today’s culture, especially youth culture. Young people think they have the right to have premarital sex, and they think they are entitled to full protection against its consequences, i.e., having a child or contracting STDs.

Here’s the Times:

Bridgette Dunlap, a Fordham University law student, knew that the school’s health plan had to pay for birth control pills, in keeping with New York state law. What she did not find out until she was in an examining room, “in the paper dress,” was that the student health service — in keeping with Roman Catholic tenets — would simply refuse to prescribe them.

As a result, students have had to go to Planned Parenthood or private doctors to get prescriptions. Some, unable to afford the doctor visits, gave up birth control pills entirely. In November, Ms. Dunlap, 31, who was raised a Catholic and was educated at parochial schools, organized a one-day, off-campus clinic staffed by volunteer doctors who wrote prescriptions for dozens of women.

Many Catholic colleges decline to prescribe or cover birth control, citing religious reasons. Now they are under pressure to change. This month the Obama administration, citing the medical case for birth control, made a politically charged decision that the new health care law requires insurance plans at Catholic institutions to cover birth control without co-payments for employees, and that may be extended to students. But Catholic organizations are resisting the rule, saying it would force them to violate their beliefs and finance behavior that betrays Catholic teachings.

Despite Catholic teachings, surveys have found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women, as in the general population, have used contraceptives.

At Catholic universities, some students support the right of the schools to uphold religious doctrine. But others, particularly professional and graduate students, have found the restrictions on birth control coverage onerous. Undergraduates are often covered by their parents’ insurance, but graduate students are usually on their own and are more likely to be married or in relationships and in regular need of birth control.

A 23-year-old who asked that her name not be used said she became pregnant while studying at Fordham. In high school, she said, she had taken birth control pills, but she gave them up at Fordham because she could not afford the doctor visit needed for a prescription. She and her boyfriend were using condoms when she became pregnant. Though Catholic, she considered abortion, but chose to have the baby. She said she knew six other Fordham students who had become pregnant and had abortions.

This is crazy. These young women, as the Times is reporting it, are acting like their Catholic colleges are putting them in an impossible position, where they—the women—are left without a choice. “Now I’m going to have to have sex without protection!” you can hear them crying. “What about my reproductive rights!” But the beauty of being a young woman today is that there are plenty of choices to make—thank you, feminism—in a situation like this: You can drop out of your Catholic school and go somewhere that better matches your lifestyle; you can pay for your own birth control (what a thought!); you can decide not to have protected sex; or you can have unprotected sex.

These are real choices—real alternatives—so why doesn’t the Times mention them as serious alternatives? Because they are hard choices that no one wants to face up to; because they are choices that have consequences, as most important decisions do. To the Times and to the young women in the story, sex shouldn’t have consequences. That it would is an outrage.

Against this fantasy, the Catholic colleges remind us that we may be entitled to making our own decisions, but we won’t be coddled and protected from the fall out of those choices. This is a lesson that young women everywhere—especially those who choose to go to Catholic colleges–should learn.