Wheaton drops student health insurance to avoid Obamacare contraception mandate

Wheaton College in Illinois. Photo by Blanche Heidengren via Wheaton College Media Center
Wheaton College in Illinois. Photo by Blanche Heidengren via Wheaton College Media Center

Wheaton College in Illinois. Photo by Blanche Heidengren via Wheaton College Media Center

CHICAGO, (Reuters) — Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian school in Illinois, will stop providing health insurance to students on Friday because of its objection to the Obamacare mandate to provide contraceptive coverage, a legal group has announced.

The decision affects about 500 of 3,000 students at the nondenominational liberal arts school — nicknamed the “evangelical Harvard” — in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based legal group that represents the college.

Wheaton College President Philip Ryken said in a statement that the government’s insistence that the college provide insurance services that contradict its religious beliefs forced it to make this “difficult choice.”

READ: Nuns lose latest court battle to avoid contraception mandate

Colleges are not required to provide health insurance to students, but the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, requires policies provided by colleges that offer insurance to cover preventive services for women, including access to contraception and sterilization.

The contraception requirement has been challenged by Wheaton College as well as religiously affiliated nonprofits and family-owned companies such as Hobby Lobby Stores.

The devout Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, a craft store chain, objected to four of the 20 federally approved contraceptive medications and devices that would be required under the health care law. It provided, and continues to offer birth control pill through its insurance coverage after winning an exemption for small family owned corporations in a Supreme Court decision.

READ: Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green stands on faith against Obamacare mandate

Wheaton objects to the same four forms of contraception — so-called “morning-after” pills and intrauterine devices that prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus, according to the Becket Fund, which also represented Hobby Lobby.

A government provision would require the college to notify the government that it wanted to opt out by claiming a religious exemption, which would cause the college’s insurers to provide coverage directly to students.

Wheaton objected to the provision, which would allow the government to use the college’s health plans to get around its religious opposition, said Becket attorney Mark Rienzi.

“It’s hard to believe the government’s making the world better by stopping Wheaton from offering the insurance it used to offer,” said Rienzi. The college will keep fighting in court, he added.

According to the Chicago Tribune, 3,000 students will not be offered insurance but it faculty and staff health insurance will not be affected.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Wheaton’s request for a preliminary injunction on July 1.

READ: What’s abortifacient? Disputes over birth control fuel Obamacare fight

But requests by faith-based non-profits to refuse even an opt-out letter — the same accommodation offered Hobby Lobby — have not faired well in the courts so far. In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled against a group of Catholic nuns who serve the elderly, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who refuse the accommodation.

The appellate court ruled that the signing such a letter would “not substantially burden their religious exercise” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act “or infringe upon their First Amendment rights.”

The ruling says: “Having to file paperwork or otherwise register a religious objection, even if one disagrees with the ultimate aim of the law at issue, does not alone substantially burden religious exercise.” And it calls the accommodation “at least as easy as obtaining a parade permit, filing a simple tax form, or registering to vote — in other words, a routine, brief administrative task.”

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Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues

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  • We all know what the solution is. Or do we?

    And would not ObamaCare cover this students since they don’t have health insurance.

  • Ah, the “scandal of the evangelical mind.” There really isn’t much of one, is there? The so-called “evangelical Harvard” buys the unscientific nonsense that IUDs and emergency contraception pills are abortifacients. Hard to say what the bigger scandal is, though. That Wheaton promotes being willful ignorant or the willful ignorance itself.

  • Grow up. Does contraception NEED to be part of an insurance plan? Condoms and pills are cheap. We are not talking cancer treatment here.

  • If you don’t want abortions, you need to support contraceptives. It’s really that simple. And so long as you are asking people to dedicate their lives to you–for work or for school–you really need to provide reasonable health insurance. That is all the ACA tries to do: ensure that we all have sufficient coverage to pay our own way when we get sick or injured. And it WILL happen to each and every one of us.

  • As long as said inexpensive contraceptives are used properly:

    WHICH Birth control METHODS DO WOMEN (men?) USE?
    • 64% of reproductive-age women who practice contraception use reversible methods, such as oral contraceptives or condoms. The remaining women rely on female or male sterilization.[2]
    Percentage of women experiencing an unintended pregnancy (a few examples)
    Some examples
    Pill (combined)……… 8.7 (resulting in ~one millon unplanned pregnancies)
    Tubal sterilization ……0.7
    Male condom ……….17.4 (resulting in ~one million unplanned pregnancies)
    Vasectomy…………… 0.2
    IUD (Copper-T)……….1.0
    (Masturbation mono or dual)………. 0
    (Abstinence) 0
    And the abortion rate in the USA? ~one million/year

  • And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the “Stupid Majority”?) (30-43 million women have had abortions since R vs. W)

  • “Condoms and pills are cheap.” THIS from a guy who says “grow up.” Geez. What you don’t know about women’s reproductive health needs could almost fit in the Grand Canyon. We are not talking about anything you should have say over here.

  • Ahh, pro-lifers. Make that pro-birthers. Promoting unwanted pregnancies. And abortion. Good job.

  • What are you talking about? Where are the promotions of “pro-birth” in the above commentaries?

  • The public demanded that government run health care provide it. The medical profession demanded it. None of them needed to consult your opinions to that effect.

    The school was being whiny and overly controlling. They didn’t have to pay for the contraception provided to students. Simply allow them to obtain coverage themselves.

    They are so overwhelmed by the notion of imposing on others that they would rather all students suffer from lack of healthcare than run the risk a student may actually want contraception and pay for it themselves.

  • There is no rational argument against contraception. You only have religious arguments. Access to all forms of contraception lower unplanned pregnancy. Alternatives such as “natural” contraception and abstinence never worked on a big scale, never will.

  • Eric,
    In Wheaton College’s Statement of Faith the school states explicitly that life begins at conception (or the fertilization of an egg). Therefor, a morning after pill that can prevent the egg from attaching to the uterine wall would be considered and abortifacient. Just because science says that IUD’s and morning-after pills are not abortive does not mean that every institution will see it the same way. It, infact, is a scientific argument about when life truly begins. Science will say at a certain point during pregnancy, Wheaton says at conception. It’s not total disregard for science, rather it’s a differing belief on science itself.

  • “It, in fact, is a scientific argument about when life truly begins.”

    No, it isn’t. It is, in fact, a “statement of faith.” That’s the whole point–according to the “evangelical Harvard” itself. Wheaton doesn’t object to the science of birth control; they ignore it and argue that it is their constitutional right to be able to ignore it. That’s the whole point, here. That’s why they sued the gov’t in the first place.

    “Just because science says that IUD’s and morning-after pills are not abortive does not mean that every institution will see it the same way.” […] “It’s not total disregard for science, rather it’s a differing belief on science itself.”

    If you can convince yourself of this, what will you not do or say in the name of “sincerely held religious beliefs”?

  • Exactly. And if you read Religion Dispatches, there’s a great post about just how cowardly Wheaton’s action is: they dropped student health insurance, but not employee’s because they know employees could and would sue.

  • Let the students get coverage under the ACA. Something the school would rather not do lest a student actually want and obtain contraception at their own cost and effort.

  • Let’s face it Hobby Lobby has been completely neutered due to the rather sane opt out procedures. The new batch of lawsuits are demonstrating why kind of controlling nosybodies these Christians are. The whole argument about simply not paying for it as part of a “stand of conscience” is nonsense. They aren’t paying for it.

    It’s just a question of demanding control over others in the name of one’s faith. Obnoxiousness incarnate.

  • Birth control costs vary. Generic pills or newer versions? IUD’s or other implants? Some women (and teenage girls) are on birth control pills for a variety of medical issues, extreme pain with their monthly periods, excessive bleeding, etc. The point is, do you want your place of business or school deciding what health care you can have or not? What if your boss doesn’t believe in vaccinations or anti-depressants? Can they decide not to cover those too? What if your boss is a Jehovah’s witness (no blood transfusions) or a Christian Scientist (no medical care at all.)

  • Contraception and STD (to include HIV) prevention, yes indeed and in any form that works well. Obviously, the Pill and male condom do not.

    Added information:

    “Bill Gates is putting out a call to inventors, but he’s not looking for software, or the latest high-tech gadget. This time he’s in search of a better condom.

    On its Grand Challenges website, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is offering a $100,000 startup grant to the person who designs “the next generation condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure” and promotes “regular use.”

    It may sound like the setup for a joke, but the goal is deadly serious. While researchers call condoms one of the best ways to stop the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, getting people to use them is another story.”

  • Condoms and the Pill as allegedly ineffective as you claim, but are still the forms of contraception which are easiest to obtain/use They still have a far better track record than forms of birth control advocated by opponents of contraception.

    The lack of effectiveness of the pill and condom are the reason why insurers consider surgically implanted forms of birth control cost neutral to the insured. Effective contraception is a cost saver for insurance companies.

  • None of this makes sense. These students wouldn’t use this insurance anyway. They don’t participate in premarital sex, so it is like offering insurance against martians attacking their house. No self respecting Christian would even think about the penis and vagina being inserted into one another before marriage. That is why God gave us anal sex for Chrissakes!

  • You are so wrong theologically it isn’t even funny.

    It’s why god gave us oral sex.


    “Yes, oral sex is sex, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here’s a crucial message for teens: Oral sex carries many of the same risks as vaginal sex, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of oral cancers in America in people under age 50.

    “Adolescents don’t think oral sex is something to worry about,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. “They view it as a way to have intimacy without having ‘sex.'”