Christianity,  Politics

Division on Wheaton’s faculty about Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate

Ruth Graham reports that some of the faculty at Wheaton College have problems with the college’s opposition to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. Obamacare requires Christian schools like Wheaton to provide insurance coverage for abortifacient drugs. Wheaton has sued the government (like many other institutions in their position) to get relief from Obamacare’s infringement upon religious liberty. Nevertheless, Graham reports that some of the faculty are opposed to the lawsuit. She writes:

Some employees are still frustrated: If emergency contraception incontrovertibly causes abortions, then can’t employees be trusted to use their own moral judgment to avoid it? “There’s a demonstrated lack of confidence in their female employees, and that is really demeaning,” [Leah Seppanen] Anderson said.

The shakiness of Wheaton’s scientific position is compounded by the fact that there is far less moral agreement in the evangelical community about emergency contraception than there is about abortion, which most evangelicals fiercely oppose. Near the end of the summer, a frustrated Anderson met with about a dozen female faculty members to discuss the issue.

“There’s this external, out-facing argument to the federal government that ‘we believe these to be abortifacients, and this is part of our core religious identity,'” she said. “As an insider at Wheaton, I feel like we have not had that conversation.” She and most of the women she spoke with agreed that in their own lives, they would probably err on the side of not using emergency contraception. But Anderson said she’s simply not comfortable with the college making that decision for her, let alone presenting it to the world as a definitive evangelical value. “It seems like people at best aren’t sure, so why are we drawing the line on the sand on this issue?”

This is an interesting argument. Anderson says that she personally would err on the side of caution and avoid emergency contraception. Nevertheless, she says that Wheaton College should not have a right to err on the side of caution. In essence, she’s agreeing with the Obama administration that Wheaton should be forced to pay for insurance that includes abortion-inducing drugs. Why should the government have the right to trample the consciences of Wheaton College? If Anderson has an answer to that question, it doesn’t appear in the report.

But there is also a more fundamental misunderstanding here. When it comes to abortifacient birth control devices, Wheaton College is not “making that decision for her” (to use her words). She and every other employee of Wheaton are free to use any of the FDA approved birth control devices—even the ones that are potentially abortifacient. This is not a debate about whether employees should be able to purchase those devices. It’s a debate about whether the United States government has the right to force Wheaton to pay for them. I guess Dr. Anderson thinks the government has that right. I think the framers of the First Amendment would disagree.


  • Chris Ryan

    Its only an abortion if you think a zygote, a fertilized egg, has a soul even before its implanted in the uterus. Patheos has a good article up on this & apparently 18% of all fertilized eggs are naturally rejected by the uterus. Ironically, if you believe that flushing out zygotes is the death of a soul, then mandatory contraception is your best bet. By impeding ovulation, the pill actually reduces the number of zygotes “killed” by 67%. So the most pro-life position is to support–not restrict–contraception.

  • Michael Hutton

    Chris, Would knowing 18% of old ladies fall down stairs make pushing your grandmother down the stairs OK?

    It’s not about whether something ever happens. We all die. 100% But it’s still wrong to kill someone. It’s about whether it’s right for us to make it happen.

    An event that occurs naturally or spontaneously can have moral dimensions when a human being causes it to happen to another. It can be sad or disastrous or inevitable, but when a person does it, it’s all those and also wrong.

    His gun went off when cleaning ==> I shot him
    he lost $50 ==> I stole $50
    He swallowed poison accidentally ==> I poisoned him

    My baby didn’t implant properly ==> I used chemicals to make sure it would die.

    I don’t know any Evangelicals who are arguing against preventative contraception. I don’t recall Denny making that case. You’re barking up the wrong tree. But you’re also using a bad argument to do it.

    If you are arguing for abortifacients then your argument is fallacious and reeks of death.
    What you are saying is that anything that happens naturally (often enough, say 18%?) I can also do to someone.

    Please stay away from grandmothers, pregnant women and any vulnerable people until you can think straight!

  • Roy Fuller

    Michael, just as a point of fact, Denny does raise questions regarding the pill. You might search this website and you will find his opinion. There are certainly evangelicals who argue against preventative contraception.

    • Michael Hutton

      Thank You Roy. I stand corrected. I should have limited my discussion to this topic only. Please allow me to do so now.

      The Wheaton/Obamacare issue is about abortifacients not preventative measures.
      The 18% argument is not just invalid, it goes beyond dumb argument into the territory of murderous rationalisation.

      What court/sane person would accept the argument,

      “18% of junkies OD in back alleys anyway, so what does it matter if I gave him an extra injection, while he was passed out, that turned out to be lethal?”

  • James Bradshaw

    I’m unclear on why these sorts of drugs must be covered while procedures like Lasik are not (or why other more necessary types of medical devices are not, such as braces).

    What’s the rationale? Or is there none?

  • John Biedebach

    Fantastic last paragraph and one which the opponents of Wheaton’s position almost always ignore. Wheaton has never covered these as part of any insurance plan, so the current employees had no expectation they would be covered. They are freely available on the open market (over-the-counter) for anyone to purchase (price ranging from $20-60) and I don’t believe there is any age restriction (I have read conflicting info, but I think the latest is that there is not).

    This is a religious liberty argument. Although I don’t speak for Wheaton, I believe they are saying they simply want the same protection already afforded to churches. This “mandate” is not even a law. It is the HHS’s interpretation of the Affordable Care Act, but there is nothing in the law that “mandates” the government do this. They are doing this purely as a matter of will and could easily exclude religious colleges and high schools if they so chose. They simply choose not to do that and Wheaton is completely within its constitution right to litigate the matter.

    Bottom line, the employees are not being cheated, the government is not forced to do what it is doing, and no one is harmed by excluding Wheaton. Conversely, if Wheaton IS forced to provide these drugs against its conscience, then Wheaton, as an institution is harmed by having its religious liberty limited. And I am sorry if the employees of the college weren’t consulted beforehand, but I am not aware of any organization (for profit or not-for-profit) that takes a vote of its employees before a move like this. The leadership of the college is responsible to chart the course and if the employees, or students, don’t like it they are free to go elsewhere.

    • Ryan Davidson

      That’s completely false. For many years, Wheaton voluntarily provided its employees health insurance that covered the very procedures to which the college now claims to object. The college took its current position only after passage of the ACA. For years, Wheaton took the position that it expected its employees and students to abide by the college’s code of conduct. Now, as a condition of maintaining standing, Wheaton is forced to admit that it has a good-faith belief that its female employees and students will violate the code of conduct.

      Further, it’s worth noting that the current HHS regulations don’t require Wheaton to provide insurance coverage for the objected-to procedures. So, Wheaton is not objecting to the fact that it has to provide such coverage; rather, the college is objecting to the fact that the government has made such coverage available to its employees at all.

      • John Biedebach

        Ryan, I guess we are going to have to agree to disagree. I am curious about any proof you have that abortifacients were covered under Wheaton’s plan. I don’t know your affiliation with the college. I am an alum and a parent of a current student and consider myself very plugged in on the issue. I attended a briefing by President Ryken on the matter over homecoming weekend earlier this month. Granted I am bias to Wheaton’s side, but I am getting my information directly from them. Making a statement like “Wheaton voluntarily provided its employees health insurance that covered the very procedures to which the college now claims to object” seems dubious to me. I am interested on how you have drawn that conclusion. Please provide a link to any evidence.

        • Ryan Davidson


          I don’t think we have to agree to disagree. My statements are plainly supported by Wheaton’s own admissions in the pleadings of: Wheaton College v. Sebelius, Civil Action No. 1:12-cv-1169-ESH (D.D.C., filed July 18, 2012).

          You must have misunderstood what Phil said. That’s not altogether surprising, though. I live a few miles from Wheaton, and attended several of Phil’s briefings regarding the litigation this past spring and summer. I found a lot of his public statements about the case to be somewhat opaque.

          • John Biedebach

            I stand corrected. The vitriol around this issue shocks me. To me the case is about religious liberty and fending off infringement by the government. I live in Texas and the city of Houston is now subpoening pastors. Granted I think that story has been over blown by conservatives if you look at the actual facts, but I can’t understand why it is so important that a tiny school in suburban Chicago buy 4 drugs for its employees. These drugs are available over the counter, relatively inexpensive , and in most cases not used on a regular basis. I get why the government wants them covered and I get why Wheaton is fighting it. I don’t understand the massive animus by people who, heretofore, had never heard of Wheaton or even been there.

            • Roy Fuller

              John, you raise interesting questions regarding why the events surrounding Wheaton, Hobby Lobby and others have become the “hill on which to die” for some Christians. One of Burk’s comments above reveals part of the answer, where he acknowledges that Wheaton used to over such coverage, but that it was an oversight which has been corrected. I would observe that this “oversight” seems to have been common, in that other conservative Christian institutions and organizations also experienced this oversight, which they corrected when prompted to highlight the issue of religious liberty, which has become a popular issue among some American conservative Christians. I believe this is due to these groups’ desire to carve out religious exemptions for themselves at a time when their place of cultural dominance is fading. I am not saying that they are not truly concerned about religious liberty for all, but in the face of cultural changes with which they disagree, there is growing concern for their own ability to practice the faith. From a political perspective, challenging the ACA mandates was a way of attacking a president unpopular with some evangelicals, as well as launching a new, and more easily defended, front in the culture wars. Making a claim of “choice” and “rights” is much easier to defend in our culture – one need look no further than the success of the “pro-choice” movement in framing the issue in a beneficial way for a country which loves choice and freedom.

              • Michael Hutton

                Or it could be that a government mandated health care scheme with compulsory abortifacients that Christians are coerced to provide by the full weight of government power coming at a time when Government power is being used to try force Christians to be involved in same sex marriages against their conscience might actually be about choice and freedom in a country that has changed so much that nobody seems to care about choice or freedom if it’s only the Christians who are being targeted.

                • Roy Fuller

                  Would be more accurate to add “some” to the above paragraph in front of every use of the word Christian. Opinions vary, even among believers, on the issues you mention. By using “Christian” in the way you do, you suggest those brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with you may not be true Christians. I don’t assume you mean that, but it could be so taken.

                  • Michael Hutton

                    Actually, it’s entirely appropriate to phrase it in that way. The fact of the matter is that they are Christians, furthermore those convictions are rooted in their Christian faith. So they are being coerced by a government that seeks to override their Christian convictions.

                  • Ryan Davidson


                    I agree. Yuval Levin has a great short piece in First Things this week that addresses our movement away from a common culture to something more akin to a patchwork culture of various tribes. Levin correctly notes that our nostalgia for the alleged common culture of the ’50s is often misplaced. Even so, there was something of a common consensus, coupled with an idealistic sense of our being part of one big melting pot. But it’s awfully rare to hear that sort of language anymore. We’re gradually sorting ourselves into a dozen or more sociological tribes, and, whether we realize it or not, we’re becoming less concerned with those who don’t share our sociological commitments.

                    It’s unclear what effect this will have on evangelicalism. Evangelicalism has always operated with something of a common-culture assumption. Today, however, the movement finds itself encompassing 4-5 different tribes that are becoming increasingly isolated from each other and increasingly deaf to each others’ concerns. These tribes include: a progressive Arminian tribe (Olson, Held-Evans, McKnight); a non-pietist moderate Reformed tribe (Noll, Marsden, Keller??); a pietist conservative Reformed tribe (Mohler, Driscoll, Sproul, Keller??); a conservative Arminian tribe; and a charismatic tribe.

                    As these groups increasing separate from each other and demand their own institutions, it presents a problem for places like Wheaton. For example, Wheaton draws its faculty almost exclusively from the Noll-Marsden tribe, while soliciting donations and students heavily from the Mohler-Driscoll tribe. There are bound to be tensions, and they will only get worse. This is especially true, given that the Noll-Marsden tribe feels especially invigorated by the formation of the ECO and the rapid growth of the EPC (compared to the decline of the PCA ). I’m sure there are more battles to come.

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