As the Supreme Court evaluates the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, debate has intensified in New Haven over its requirement that employers cover contraception in their health care plans.
Last Friday, protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse on Church Street to speak out against the requirement, just hours after Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, whose district incudes New Haven, hosted a panel about the benefits of President Barack Obama’s health care plan for women. The new health insurance plan, which will go into effect starting in August, has prompted a variety of opinions on campus, as well. Some Yalies object to the requirement on moral grounds, while others expressed a belief that contraception should not be funded by those who believe it is wrong. Those in favor of the requirement said the issue is not one of religious freedom but of basic women’s rights.
Over 150 people attended the protest on Friday, which was part of a nationwide movement called “Stand Up for Religious Freedom,” a coalition dedicated to stopping the contraception requirement. In all, 61,000 people across the country attended one of the 134 protests run by the movement, according to its website.
Isabel Marin ’12, one of two Yale students who gave speeches at the rally, said she found out about the protest from pro-life groups in New Haven, who asked if she or other undergraduates would be willing to speak.
Marin emphasized that people need to see themselves as morally culpable not only for what they consume, but what they support, even indirectly. Forcing someone to help pay for something they see as evil and immoral is a violation of religious freedom, she said.
“There’s a lot of evidence that contraception is bad for the woman and her family, in terms of health of the woman, the likelihood of needing an abortion, the likelihood of single moms, people [who might not be ready] getting into marriage and commitment to sexual partners without emotional commitment,” Marin said. “The Catholic Church sees contraception as something that is fundamentally at the root of all these social issues.”
On the other side of the spectrum, DeLauro’s Friday morning panel discussion featured speakers who spoke in support of the health care act.
Teresa Younger, the executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women — a state agency that advises state politicians about women’s issues — was one of the panelists. She emphasized that contraception has uses beyond birth control, such as regulating female cycles, controlling ovarian cysts and potentially lowering women’s chance of developing cancer. She added that, regardless of these other benefits, contraception in itself is a valid reason to use birth control.
“Contraception and access to it are essential parts of comprehensive preventative health care. Fundamentally, women should have access to and be able to afford preventative health care services,” Younger said. “The long-term implications for women’s economic security far outweigh what I believe are individual religious beliefs.”
But for Lauren Hoedeman DIV ’13, who attended Friday’s protest and brought a few friends with her, individual religious beliefs should matter enough not to be overridden by law.
“I have a right to follow my conscience, and I don’t think anyone should be required to do anything by law that they think is wrong,” Hoedeman said. “For example, I don’t think Jewish people should be required by law to eat pork.”
Mary Welborn, the secretary of St. Stanislaus Church on Eld Street, also voiced religious concerns with the law. Roman Catholics believe that contraception is immoral, she said, and therefore they do not want to pay for it.
But Shelly Kim ’15, who is active in a Christian campus ministry, said she does not think there is any conflict between her religious faith and this mandate.
“I feel like a lot of the problem is that aside from Planned Parenthood, you can’t get affordable contraception. That’s why a lot of women aren’t on birth control, who maybe should be, because it’s really expensive,” Kim said. “I think it counts as something that should be covered by health insurance because it is, after all, for your health.”
Kim said among her religious acquaintances, none of them thought that contraception was inherently immoral, and from her experience, that belief is only held by very strict Catholics. She said that the association between contraception and teenage pregnancy is inaccurate, as even married people use contraception.
Similarly, Lewis Golove ’15, a member of the Party of the Left, said he believes that women should have full control over whether they become pregnant regardless of how much money they have.
“Being uncomfortable with a government policy is not grounds for exempting yourself from it, especially regarding issues of public health,” Golove said. “People were uncomfortable with the Iraq War, but still had to pay taxes. The Church shouldn’t be deciding public policy in America.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law by Obama in March 2010.