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Students debate Obama’s free birth control mandate (State News)

Published February 13, 2012 by The State News.

By Katie Harrington

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Published: 02.13.12| Updated: 02.15.12

State News Editor’s note: This article has been altered to accurately reflect the number of sexually active Catholic women who use sexual contraceptives.

On Friday, the Obama administration revised its mandate that required religiously-affiliated institutions to provide insurance for free birth control to their employees.

Although MSU is a public university and still is required to follow the mandate, the revision has drawn mixed reactions from the student body.

The mandate is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, enacted in March 2010, and gives women access to birth control at no additional charge through their job-based coverage, starting in August 2012. The new policy enacted Friday aims to address the concerns raised by some religious groups, who feel the mandate constitutes government meddling.

MSU’s Graduate Employees Union – which covers about 1,200 graduate student teaching assistants on campus – already covers birth control in its health insurance plan with the university, said Dan Clark, vice president for contract negotiations and enforcement.

Although Clark said MSU is a secular institution, he still favors the mandate for the union’s members.

“I feel it’s important that women have access to contraception coverage as part of their health insurance plan,” he said.

Sarah Scranton, executive director of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Michigan, said she believes the mandate is fair, as it strikes a balance between both the religious institutions and an individual’s own values.

Still, she said the organization believes women should have access regardless of their employer and religious affiliation.

“We certainly have been urging the administration to make sure birth control is covered and that women have preventative services,” she said.

Betsy Shalda, an English sophomore who is an intern at St. John Church and Student Center in East Lansing, 327 M.A.C. Ave., said to her, the issue isn’t whether or not someone agrees with the beliefs of the Catholic church.

She said it’s about the president forcing religious organizations to provide services that conflict with their faith.

“I think that the biggest problem is that it’s a violation of the First Amendment,” Shalda said. “It’s imposing the state on the church when the church isn’t trying to impose anything on the state.”

“This isn’t just that women want free birth control,” LeVigne said.

“It’s that women need free birth control. What we would save as a state and as a country by giving them this preventative medication is huge.”

According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, 99 percent of sexually active women have used contraception at one point in their lives, and 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used it.

LeVigne said there’s no reason to deny Catholic women access to such an important part of women’s health care when they use it in the same proportions as the rest of the population.

“I don’t think this is the end, but I think we definitely have an ally in The White House,” LeVigne said. “At the end of the day, that’s what matters.”

LeVigne added she thinks the debate isn’t even something the country should be discussing, as Obama made a compromise that will help many women.

But Shalda said she doesn’t consider the policy a compromise.

“It’s frustrating that (Obama) calls it a compromise, because it’s just masking what’s going on,” she said.

“I think if women decide to use it, they should have access to it, but I don’t think the Catholic Church should necessarily provide that access, since they teach against it.”

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