Taking a stand against both Obamacare and common sense, Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian school in Illinois, has decided to end its student health insurance plans altogether rather than have anything to do with Americans’ access to contraception. The school had provided health care coverage to about a quarter of its 3,000 undergraduate students, but school officials announced last week that the care will no longer be provided once the new academic year begins. The college has essentially thrown hundreds of students out into the cold with nothing but meager “hardship funding” that is inadequate to cover the cost of a new health plan. For Wheaton College officials, like so many of their right-wing brethren, adherence to “ideals” – whether fact-based or not – trumps empathy or support for their fellow human beings.
And unsurprisingly, the beliefs Wheaton officials are trying to uphold are not fact-based. They object to any involvement in Obamacare on the basis that it indirectly ties them to the provision of contraceptives. Regardless of the fact that the vast majority of Christians support birth control and view it as morally acceptable, a small conservative right-wing minority believes – in spite of all scientific evidence and common sense – that contraceptives are abortion drugs. And, like so many conservative right-wing minorities, they are intent on imposing their misguided view on others, leaving them to suffer.
Officials at Wheaton and other conservative Christians object to the religious compromise that was formulated by the Supreme Court in response to Hobby Lobby’s religious objections to Obamacare. The provision exempts faith-based institutions from having to provide birth control. Instead, they must fill out a form to notify the government of their objections, at which point healthcare provides will offer contraceptive coverage directly to beneficiaries so that the institution does not have to be involved. For some, however, the mere act of filling out the form is seen as condoning the use of birth control. So, essentially Wheaton College officials would rather leave their vulnerable students with no health care coverage at all than give them the option of using birth control provided from an outside source. It’s like burning down your house to prevent the floor from getting scratched.
Wheaton has actually gone so far as to challenge the Affordable Care Act in court on first amendment grounds, and officials have hopes of the case reaching the Supreme Court, despite the court’s recent affirmation of the law. Courts have not been sympathetic, however, and have unanimously ruled that signing a form does not constitute a threat to religious liberty. The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Wheaton last month, a turn of events that officials said contributed to their decision to eliminate coverage. As Wheaton has found out, contrary to the beliefs of right-wing religious conservatives the right of religious freedom does not mean the right to impose one’s religious beliefs on others.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.