On July 10, administrators at Wheaton College of Wheaton, Illinois decided to take student health into their own hands, all in the name of making a point.
So what is it that they're doing? Promoting healthier lifestyles? Providing on-campus health resources that students might not find elsewhere? Making health insurance more accessible?
In fact, it's just the opposite.
The Christian liberal arts college has chosen to discontinue offering student health insurance so that the institution will not have to comply with legislation implemented by the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, Wheaton is doing everything it can to withhold birth control access from its students.
As a refresher, one facet of the Obama Administration's Affordable Care Act includes mandating baseline health insurance coverage of birth control. Thus, any health insurance provider is required to supply some form of insurance-covered birth control. With a stance that contraception is "morally objectionable," Wheaton refuses to comply and has therefore chosen to refuse to provide health insurance for its students altogether. Dramatic? Many think so.
A deeper dive into Wheaton's reasoning behind the decision shows the true motivator—what rising Wheaton senior Chris Prescher describes as"putting petty politics above caring for students." Indeed, the official implementation of health insurance removal occurs in an effort to support a recent lawsuit the college has undertaken, one mimicking those which were filed by religious businesses such as Hobby Lobby.
What this proves, more than anything, is that birth control is everybody's issue. Yes, women use contraceptives, and yes, this decision will without doubt make safe sex decisions even harder for any young woman who relied on Wheaton's campus health insurance. But the fact that an entire health insurance program was abolished to guarantee birth control inaccessibility shows that women won't be the only students affected. Anybody relying on Wheaton's school-provided insurance is now forced to scramble for new coverage, with only weeks until the semester starts and financial barriers abound. So when a lofty male companion glosses over this news, ask him to consider all of the ramifications—it's always interesting to note that when contraceptive news is slanted as male-applicable health insurance news, nationwide interest spikes. Oh, sexism.
And as always, the anti-contraceptive mindset fueling the cancellation is built off of misinformation and arguably, more sexism. According to the Chicago Tribune, Wheaton's religious beliefs consider contraceptives including intrauterine devices and morning-after pills as synonymous with abortion. For those of us lucky enough to have been present at the Her Conference 2015 session on Plan B, we know that contraceptives are far from abortion. Abortion ends an existing pregnancy; contraceptives prevent a pregnancy from starting. Still, reputable officials and religious policy-makers refuse to acknowledge this distinction, and we have a hunch that it's because it doesn't directly affect these mostly-male individuals.
According to Refinery29, Wheaton's Vice President of Student Development Paul Chelson admits that he believes any temporary pain caused by the decision will be worth winning the lawsuit. But is the pain and confusion actually necessary?
Two nuances to this decision are especially important to note. First, while many religious institutions find birth control immoral, they're still providing student health insurance. How? Obamacare offers a compromise plan, fully recognizing that organizations have a right to religious freedom. All an institution has to do is express to the government their moral objection, which then "would prompt the school's insurance carrier to provide [contraception] coverage directly to students," according to the Chicago Tribune. Thus, those who fully stand by Wheaton's anti-contraception beliefs still find fault in the way the matter has been handled.
Secondly, interestingly enough, this new policy will have no effect on Wheaton faculty and staff, including decision spokesperson Paul Chelson.