Scales of Justice
Image Credit: Darktaco

Wheaton College had a difficult decision to make: whether to obey the law of man, or the law of God.

One would expect that a Christian college would obey the law of God, and that’s what they did. But they also didn’t want to incur the penalties associated with breaking the law of man, so they found a way to avoid the problem altogether.

The human law demanded that they break the commandment “thou shalt not kill,” and so they made the only choice they could:

They terminated health insurance coverage for their students.

What led up to this was a provision in the Affordable Care Act that required insurance policies to cover some forms of birth control. Wheaton College believes that certain forms of birth control – such as Intra-Uterine Devices (IUDs) and FDA-approved emergency contraception (sometimes called a “morning-after pill”) to be taken after intercourse – cause abortions, which they count as killing of a human being. And so the government was requiring the college to participate in the killing of unborn children.

Never mind that the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says that neither IUDs nor emergency contraception cause abortion, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees.  The school’s belief is contrary to the statements of these professional associations.

The government offered a compromise: the college could write a letter stating their moral objection to covering these medical options, and the government would have the insurance carrier create separate coverage outside of the college’s policy. This, too, was too much for Wheaton College, and they asked the courts to intervene. But the 7th US District Court of Appeals said it was not “a burdensome requirement.”

So, to avoid any involvement in providing these forms of birth control, the college ended health care plans for students.

And now the students will likely buy health care plans in the Illinois insurance exchange, run by the federal government. And those plans will necessarily cover the very things to which Wheaton College objects.

Under the original rules of the Affordable Care Act, Wheaton College was required to include these objectionable forms of birth control in their health care plan. Students would have access to these.

In the compromise offered by the Federal government, Wheaton College could say they objected to these forms of birth control, and they would not be included in the plan – but would be covered separately outside the plan. Students still would have access to these.

Wheaton College’s solution was to terminate the student health care plan, leading to students purchasing other plans where they would still have access to the very same forms of birth control that Wheaton was trying to avoid.

In all three cases, students have access to IUDs and emergency contraception.

The attempt to control people by limiting access to substances and procedures has repeatedly failed, and often in tragic ways. Abortion bans have resulted in illegal and dangerous abortions. Prohibition led to organized crime and dangerous moonshine. And despite a decades-long “war on drugs,” we still have people addicted to many different substances, as well as diseases that are transmitted via reused syringes.

At best, Wheaton College’s “solution” changes nothing at all. At worst, it will lead to some students being uninsured, avoiding treatment for health conditions that could otherwise be easily remedied.

But how many of the students would have availed themselves of the medical interventions to which Wheaton College objects? If a religious school fears its students will use contraception that the school finds morally objectionable, this is not a problem of insurance coverage – it is a problem of conveying moral values. If the school has a theological basis for denying access to IUDs and morning-after pills, it has a theological argument to make to its students.

A corporation such as Hobby Lobby – which also objected to covering some forms of birth control – hires people of many backgrounds, and does not select for those employees who share their values. Yet a religious institution such as Wheaton College – one that attracts like-minded students – ought to be able to instill its values without resorting to prohibiting insurance coverage.

For me, this gets down to a question of how we, as Christians, influence the world. Do we set boundaries, or do we build fences? Do we change hearts, or do we eliminate options?

Whatever our stand on moral issues, I would hope we would work to help people to grow in faith and love, rather than to just keep them from making choices we don’t like.

And in our own institutions, where we attract people of similar faith, we should be able to encourage those ideals we share, rather than trying to force people into behavior.

In the end, Wheaton College’s solution doesn’t change what their students would do. It fails to coerce them into the behavior the college desires. How much better it would have been to make the theological case, so that the coverage would not matter.

4 thoughts on “The Pastoral Is Political: When the Cure Is Worse than the Disease

  1. I love your commentary on this issue. If we really believe that God is the one that changes hearts and minds – why do we force our will on others. Are we not playing God. Are we not lacking in faith the the Almighty God will win the hearts and minds of those we care about and love? Do we really care about and love these people or is it our own egos that need to be satisfied in making decisions for others and excluding them when they don’t make the decisions we think they should. Thank you for your words.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Apparently the Wheaton officials have conceded that their students engage in premarital sex! (I agree with your argument. There is obviously a lot more to health care than contraception.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is the implication, isn’t it? (At least for their unmarried students.) And there certainly is a lot more to health care than contraception.

      I find it curious that their employee plan remains in place.


We hope you'll join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.