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Xavier University: A Case Study in Double Standards on Contraception

April 5, 2012, 3:19 pm | Posted by Nick Sementelli

In what seems to be a reaction to the debate about contraception and religious freedom of the last few months, Xavier University announced its insurance plans for university employees will no longer cover birth control, except for “non-contraceptive reasons.”

This notable exception appears to be an acknowledgement that the same drug can be used for different reasons and that this context determines the moral acceptability of its use. All an employee has to do is prove to the University that she’s using it for the allowed reasons and she’ll be approved. As to what happens if they don’t believe her? Ask Sandra Fluke’s friend.

The problem with this exception is that there’s no justifiable explanation for why it should only apply to birth control. There are a whole host of medical drugs and services which have different moral designations for various faith traditions depending on their use. Viagra doubles as a pulmonary disease treatment, anti-depressants can treat depression or just a low sex drive, and many drugs can be abused for recreational purposes.

Are Xavier employees who are prescribed these medications subject to school interrogation and approval? Are Catholic universities being accused of moral scandal for not doing so? Of course not. It’s almost inconceivable to imagine anyone holding an employer morally culpable for an employee’s misuse of a medical service, even more so when detecting that misuse requires determining the employee’s intentions.

Adopting a moral standard to prevent such a case would require instituting an enormously complex, legally questionable and distasteful verification and approval system, one that would require employers to become medical experts and lie detectors. Faced with the choice, employers (including religious employers) have understandably settled on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise that keeps the moral calculus in the hands of the individual.

Some religious workplaces even add an extra level of buffer, either requiring via contract or simply making clear that employees are expected to follow church teaching in their personal lives. What employees do after that point is on their individual consciences.

This standard essentially treats health care benefits the same way workplaces treat other forms of compensation such as salary and wages. A person who does something objectionable with their salary doesn’t make their employer complicit in their choice. Why should their health care purchases be any different?

Bishops and other religious objectors already have a way to protect their own institutional consciences from moral culpability regarding contraception. That they aren’t doing so makes it hard to buy their assertions that the HHS ruling on contraception coverage is an unbearable regulation that will force them to shut down. And that their objection only selectively applies to the issue of birth control does little to support their claim that their opposition to is simply about religious freedom and has nothing to do with contraception.

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