By Tyler Kingkade
April 9, 2012
Caption : The Catholic university in Ohio will only cover contraception if forced by the government through a legal mandate.     

Xavier University officials abruptly announced last week that they were eliminating coverage of contraception for employees, causing uproar among alumni of the Catholic institution in Ohio.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recently decided that all employers must offer health care plans that cover contraception, with exceptions for religiously-affiliated organizations. In order to accommodate employers like Catholic universities, the Obama administration shifted the requirement to foot contraception costs on health insurance companies rather than religious institutions.

Father Michael Graham, the president of Xavier University, said he reviewed their policy toward coverage of birth control in employees’ health insurance plans in light of that announcement. Xavier was already covering contraception for its employees long before the announcement by the Obama administration. However, come July 1, that will end.

“As a Catholic priest and as president of a Catholic university,” Graham wrote in a letter, “I have concluded that, absent a legal mandate, it is inconsistent for a Catholic institution to cover those drugs and procedures the Church opposes.”

Graham said he was directing the university’s Office of Human Resources to work with its insurance carrier to cut off contraception and sterilization coverage except when it’s a “medical necessity for non-contraceptive purposes.”

Within 24 hours of Graham’s letter, alumnus Cameron Tolle had started a petition trying to get the school to reverse its decision. At the time of this writing, more than 600 people had signed it.

“There are a lot of reasons that compelled me to start the petition,” Tolle told Campus Progress. “The most basic being that I was pretty angry that Xavier, as an institution, is telling women that they aren't capable of making their own medical decisions.”

Tolle, who now lives in New York, said it bothered him that Xavier was making the change for political reasons and that school officials were attempting to make healthcare and moral decisions for women. Tolle said his Facebook feed blew up with Xavier alumni who are also “overwhelmingly angry” at the decision by their alma-matter.

When reached for comment, Xavier’s press office told Campus Progress they had nothing further to say publicly about the matter. They would also not indicate their attitude toward the petition.

“This certainly isn't the Xavier that I graduated from,” Tolle said.

Contraception is often prescribed as potentially life-saving medical treatment for ovarian cysts, to prevent cervical cancer or disorders such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome; despite some rhetoric, it’s not just to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Shannon Byrne, the faculty committee chair at Xavier, will convene a meeting on Thursday with interested faculty members to discuss the controversy. “From a benefits standpoint, does anyone, including the President of Xavier, have a right to make changes to the university health coverage plan in the middle of the year?” Byrne asked in an email to faculty.

“It hadn't occurred to me that this would ever be an issue,” Tina Davlin-Pater, an associate professor at Xavier, told Reuters. She added that she viewed the denial of birth control coverage as an indication that “it’s still OK to discriminate against women in today's world.”

It’s not clear whether Xavier officials knew that contraception was already covered under their plans, however, some students said they thought the situation was handled poorly. Samantha Groark, a 21-year-old senior English major, told the Community Press that even people who supported the move by Xavier thought there should’ve been better communication.

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