Wheaton College drops student health insurance over objection to objection requirement

Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois, announced earlier this month that it will not be renewing the health insurance plans it provides for its students. The school will continue providing health insurance for its faculty and staff.

According to the school, the Department of Health and Human Services’s new rules that work around the specific religious exemptions outlined in the Hobby Lobby ruling are a violation of their sincerely held religious belief that taking part in any action that in any way can lead to a woman having access to birth control is a sin.

Those rules, issued earlier this month, state that if a religious institution objects to paying for a health insurance plan that covers contraception, they don’t have to pay for a health insurance plan that covers contraception. What they do have to do is officially declare their religious objection, after which the government can direct the insurance company to provide birth control through a separate plan. Since birth control is at most cost-neutral from an insurance perspective — women on birth control don’t carry the much higher costs associated with, well, birth — the government isn’t imposing any costs on anyone, especially not the employer — in this case Wheaton. It is simply separating birth control coverage from other health insurance coverage, and requiring religious institutions to pay only for the non-birth control part.

Even this was a bridge too far for the religious school. As TalkingPointsMemo explains:

IUD, via Shutterstock

IUD, via Shutterstock

The school terminated its plan not due to the fact that it was being forced to pay for contraceptive coverage — it is not — but that it is in a legal battle over whether it should even have to notify the government that it is seeking a religious exemption to providing contraceptive coverage. The current policy for religious non-profits gives them an exemption, at which point the government directs insurers to provide birth control coverage through a separate policy not paid for by the non-profit.

Wheaton contends that even the act of notifying the government of its religious opposition to birth control coverage makes it complicit in providing birth control. A federal appeals court has rejected Wheaton’s contention, so rather than comply with the requirement that it notify the feds, Wheaton is ending all health coverage for students.

For Wheaton, if their students have access to birth control, they are complicit in providing that coverage, even if their only role in the process is declaring that they object to said coverage.

As appeals court Justice Richard Posner (remember him?) wrote when denying Wheaton’s appeal, that argument doesn’t make any sense: “Wheaton College does not want to be involved in the provision of emergency contraceptives; pursuant to its wishes, it no longer is involved.”

And now its students will have to get their health insurance elsewhere. Because principles and Jesus.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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