Wheaton College has announced that it will no longer offer health insurance to students. The Evangelical Protestant institution, located in the Chicago area, said it is making a stand against a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring health plans to cover birth control.
HHS has required plan sponsors to put birth control benefits in the basic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) preventive services benefits package.
Currently, Wheaton provides insurance for a quarter of its 3,000 students, according to the Chicago Tribune. The college will not drop group health coverage for employees.
Wheaton has been one of a number of organizations, most notably retail giant Hobby Lobby, that have argued that the HHS contraception mandate violates their freedom of conscience. Although the college, like many Protestant institutions, does not object to all forms of birth control, it rejects certain types of contraception that it considers to be abortion, such as the morning-after pill and intrauterine devices.
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Addressing the decision in an online discussion with Wheaton students, Paul Chelsen, Wheaton’s vice president of student development, said the move was tragic but necessary to defend religious freedom.
“What really breaks my heart is that there are real people that are affected by our decision,” said Chelsen in a recording of the discussion acquired by the Tribune. “But if we don’t win this case, the implications down the road in terms of what the government will tell us what we can and cannot do will be potentially more significant.”
HHS lets some plan sponsors get exemptions from the mandate, but those sponsors must notify HHS of decisions not to comply with the mandate. HHS officials have said that HHS will then arrange for access to birth control benefits for the affected plan enrollees.
While the arrangement lets groups opposed to birth control to opt out of providing the benefit, Wheaton objected to the requirement that it notify the government of its objections. A plan sponsor should not have to apply to enter into another legal framework, the school argued. A lawyer for Wheaton told the Tribune that the college does not want any part of an insurance plan that would provide services it finds morally reprehensible.
Surveys have shown that most Americans support requiring insurance policies to cover the full cost of birth control.