The Catholic University of America

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From the President's Desk


  Video shot of President Garvey testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives committee on Feb. 16.

By now most of you have heard about a recent mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring all health plans to offer complete coverage of a list of “preventive care” services. On February 16 I testified before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the mandate infringes on the religious liberty of Catholic institutions. I think this is an important issue for the University, so I want to take a moment to explain what has happened over the past few months.

Included in the mandated “preventive care” services are contraceptives, sterilizations, and prescription drugs (like ‘ella’) that act after fertilization to cause abortion. Last fall Catholics urged the administration to expand a conscience clause in the mandate, so that it could exempt institutions whose religious beliefs run contrary to the use and provision of these services. The one that appears in the rule covers only religious organizations that exist to “inculcate religious values”; that “primarily” employ and serve “persons who share the religious tenets of the organization”; and that are excused under the tax law from filing the IRS Form 990. This narrow exemption does not reach Catholic (and other religious) hospitals, universities, and social service organizations.

In February the President made a suggestion (it has not been formally proposed as an amendment to the HHS rule) to accommodate religious liberty concerns. He offered that subscribers to plans like ours could seek reimbursement for contraceptive (and other similar) costs from the insurance company, rather than the University. Unfortunately this works no real change. We must still contract for the objectionable services; and the insurance company will pass on the cost to the University and our plan participants.

Though many people have spun this as an issue of women’s rights, it is really about religious freedom. There is no question, in 21st century America, about whether women have a right to use contraception. That was settled by Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965. Contraceptives are widely – often freely – available. The issue is whether the government can conscript private institutions, against their religious beliefs, to pay for contraceptives. Others have suggested that Catholic institutions like ours will refuse to allow their insurance carriers to pay for contraceptive pills that are intended not for the prevention of pregnancy, but for the treatment of other legitimate medical problems. But Catholic moral theology permits the use of contraceptive drugs when the sole purpose is to treat medical ailments. Our insurance already covers such cases. It is important for us, as The Catholic University of America, to understand the facts and to recognize what a serious infringement the HHS mandate, with or without the “accommodation,” is on our ability to carry out our mission as a Catholic institution.

The new Salve Regina Digital Lab

In other news, on February 20 we hosted a reception for George and Breda Shelton, benefactors of our new Salve Regina Digital Lab in the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library. The lab provides important new resources for our students, especially our art students. We are tremendously grateful for the Sheltons’ gift, which renovated the space for the lab, and to Jane Henson, whose gift furnished the new space with the necessary digital equipment.

Earlier this week, I was in Boston, where I gave a lecture to the Catholic students at Harvard and visited with the members of the Boston alumni chapter. This month I will be on the road quite a bit. Friday I fly to Kentucky for the weekend to give another lecture and see some old friends. On March 6 - 9 I will be in Florida and Puerto Rico to meet with more of our donors and alumni. On March 11 - 14 I will be in Santiago, Chile, for a meeting of several Catholic universities. This trip is a part of our initiative to build our friendship with other Catholic institutions of higher education around the world (and particularly in Latin America), and to expand global opportunities for Catholic University students.

Spring break is just around the corner, beginning on March 5. The break should be a time of relaxation and preparation for the rest of the semester Once again this year CUAlternative is encouraging students to sign the iPromise pledge — a pledge to make the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of their friends a priority during the break. I hope you make the pledge to watch out for your friends and yourselves over Spring break. Enjoy it, and come back revitalized and ready to finish the year well!