Campus reacts to birth control mandate

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Banners of Pope John Paul II grace the outside of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Newman Center. UNL’s Catholic leaders are among those opposed to a government health care mandate on free contraception.

Story and photo by Paige Dimakos, NewsNetNebraska

The debate about religious freedom and contraception continues on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, despite President Barack Obama’s recently revised mandate on the issue.

UNL’s Catholic leaders are having none of Obama’s attempt at a compromise over the new rules aimed at ensuring women have access to free contraception.

“We look at the issue and at no point in our nation’s history has the government made any kind of mandate that says we are forcing you to act against your conscience,” said The Rev. Ben Holdren, assistant pastor at UNL’s Newman Center.

The controversy began Feb. 9 when Obama announced a federal rule to require all religious schools and hospitals to provide insurance for free birth control to their employees. After the mandate was announced, 98 percent of the U.S. Catholic bishops released statements objecting to the rule and asked their dioceses to stand up and “act on their conscience.”

In response to the criticism, Obama said the government will shift the requirement from the employers to health insurers themselves.

But according to Holdren, many in the church in Lincoln see this compromise as a political trick by the Obama administration.

“By saying that Catholics don’t have to directly pay for birth control, morning after pill and other contraceptives, they are just placing an insurance middle man, which doesn’t fix the problem,” he said.

Holdren said the issue not only poses moral problems, but also constitutional ones.

“I think that’s the issue at its core. This is not only a matter of the dignity of life, but also this is unconstitutional,” he said.

The Catholic Church will continue to oppose laws that violate the dignity of human life, according to Holdren, because the church’s view will always be that “the dignity of every human life is equal because everyone is a child of God.”

But Holdren’s view is not shared by the majority, according to a recent poll by CBS, In the poll, 57 percent of Catholic voters said they are happy with Obama’s compromise. Additionally, the poll found, 99 percent of Catholic women have admitted to using contraceptives at some point.

Samanatha Merche, a sophomore English major and practicing Catholic, is among those on campus who support Obama’s compromise.

“I think that women should have the right to make decisions for their own bodies,” she said. “It’s not fair for a hierarchy of men to make those decisions for us.”

Jennifer Snyder, marketing director for the UNL Health Center, said she also supports Obama’s current mandate. The Health Center currently provides birth control to students.

“Several females on campus are on birth control and this mandate isn’t going to change that,” Snyder said. “I think that Catholic Church would be shocked to know how many girls are on birth control.”

She said she applauds women who are mature enough to know they’re not ready to have a child.

“That’s a brave step thinking about your future,” she said.

Nebraska recently became one of seven states to pursue a legal battle against the mandate, arguing that it violates religious freedom protected by the First Amendment. Attorney General Jon Bruning is leading the charge, calling the mandate “a threat to every American.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that the Senate will vote on an amendment to repeal the administration’s birth control mandate in the upcoming weeks.