Obama’s contraceptive mandate met with praise, resistance

Amidst negotiations and criticism, President Barack Obama is working to put forth a federal mandate that would require religiously affiliated universities and hospitals to adopt insurance plans that provide contraception to their employees.

In response to outcry from Roman Catholic bishops as well as from Republican and Democratic Party members, the administration has put forth a compromise that would require the insurer, rather than employer, to provide birth control free of charge to employees.

One idea the Obama administration is discussing is the Hawaii model, which would allow employers who morally oppose contraception to direct their female employees to insurance companies that would cover birth control rather than to provide it to their employees themselves.

In Hawaii, women who choose to pay for birth control on their own are protected from having to pay more than they would through their company plan. While the plan is not likely to go as far as the Hawaii model, it would involve bringing in third-party insurers to help provide birth control coverage.

Currently, churches and other houses of worship are the only institutions exempt from having to cover contraception free of charge for their female employees. The Obama administration’s compromise broadens the conscience clause to exempt religiously affiliated organizations that oppose birth control, though the nation’s Catholic bishops have rejected the plan despite this. The leaders of several large Catholic organizations that work on health care, poverty and education, however, have accepted Obama’s plan as a workable compromise.

“I think access to birth control is an essential part of women’s health care and to deny that access is really doing a disservice to women, so I’m very pleased,” said Melinda DuBois, administrative director of student health and counseling at Geneseo. “I think most people in the health field would agree that access to contraception is essential.”

At the Reproductive Health Center located on the second floor of Lauderdale Health Center on the Geneseo campus, female students have access to low-cost or free-of-charge contraception provided through the Family Planning Benefit Program, a New York insurance program that provides teens, women and men with birth control.

The center is a service provided by the Livingston County Department of Health and is open on Mondays and Thursdays. The center, staffed by one nurse practitioner, one nurse and two office workers, provides confidential medical services including annual gynecological exams, birth control and emergency contraception.

“They basically see students for all their contraceptive needs,” said DuBois.

The center, which sees 15 to 21 students each day it’s open, is one of four reproductive health clinics in Livingston County; there are three other locations in Mt. Morris, Avon and Dansville. Currently, the Geneseo location does not service male students, but DuBois says they are open to exploring that possibility.

Nancy Wilk, the center’s women’s health nurse practitioner, said that she is wary of opening the center up to male students, adding that she views the reproductive health center as a safe and confidential place for young women to access family planning services.

The Livingston County Department of Health provides reproductive services to men at its other locations throughout the county. Male students can also receive screening for sexually transmitted infections on the first floor of Lauderdale Health Center.