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Colleges, Catholicism, and Contraceptives – Oh My!

[singlepic id=22 w=320 h=240 float=] Catholicism still has a strong place within the United States, a place that becomes more prominent when controversy arises over the protection of secular/pluralist individual rights versus the protection of more religious interpretations of religious freedoms.

One can see religion and faith clashing with evolving U.S. politics in many Roman Catholic colleges where it has become a trend to refuse to prescribe birth control pills to students. This refusal is based on deeply held religious convictions that view contraceptive methods to be immoral. By “immoral,” many Catholics mean that there is no logical need for contraception and family planning other than to prevent conception – which is ultimately viewed as sinful. These religious views result in many Catholic-college students being unable to receive contraception.

This restriction causes a number of problems. For example, an undergraduate who would like to start taking birth control, covered by the school’s health plan, would not be able to receive a prescription from her school because of the aforementioned religious reasons. She must either find another provider – such as Planned Parenthood – pay to be prescribed by a private doctor, or forget about contraception altogether. Evidently there is a conflict between religious, medical, and individual values; many Catholic colleges are deeply set on religious convictions , which conflict with students’ personal values and medical needs. Of course, this is not the first time that the Roman Catholic Church has gained attention for limiting individual freedoms under the guise of freedom of religious expression.

However, in a surprising turn of events, the Obama administration has recently supported those students – and millions of women in general – who are under the authority of a religiously affiliated employer or school.  They have decided to mandate that the new health insurance rules require these institutions to cover birth control.

Freedom of religion and religious expression is fantastic, and through the existence of Catholic institutions, it is clear that these rights are indeed respected in the U.S. Yet within this notion of freedom, there is also freedom from religion – that is individuals’ freedom from coercion and enforcement of specific religious practices.

For instance, if I felt that I, as a religious person, I should attend a Catholic school and go to a Catholic hospital in order to be taught and treated by those who share my religious convictions, then I am lucky that the state allows me to do so as well as permits such religious institutions to exist in the first place. On the other hand, if I wanted to go on birth control but the religious institution which I was affiliated with prevented me from doing so, then that freedom is lost. I would be forced to pay extra fees to find the contraceptives elsewhere, or just give up and give in to the religious institution’s enforcements.

The Obama Administration’s mandate that Catholic institutions cover birth control does not have the effect of forcing every single person in the Catholic community to use contraceptive methods. The mandate is simply creating a safe space for individuals to act out of their own personal will, free from the coercion of potentially overbearing religious authority. For only then are individuals free to flourish within society according to their own personal beliefs.


–  Jackie Rood




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