Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic institution in Ohio, has decided to drop its entire student health insurance plan as of the fall semester 2012 because of the new federal rule requiring contraception coverage under most employee and student health policies. While a number of religious colleges have filed lawsuits over the birth control requirement, Franciscan is the first to get rid of its student health plan.

"The Obama Administration has mandated that all health insurance plans must cover 'women’s health services' including contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing medications as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)," the school announced on its website. "Up to this time, Franciscan University has specifically excluded these services and products from its student health insurance policy, and we will not participate in a plan that requires us to violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human life."

Therefore, the statement continued, the university will no longer offer student health insurance, require that all full-time undergrads have health insurance, or bill those students not covered under another plan for health insurance. The current plan expires on Aug. 15, 2012.

The announcement is somewhat misleading. Under the new rule, Franciscan University would not have to pay for any student's contraception. The administration carved out an exemption for religious organizations, including Catholic schools, that would require the insurance company itself to pay for the insured's birth control coverage "directly and separately." Nonprofit schools that don't currently cover birth control can also qualify for a one-year transition period to comply with the new requirement.

Further, the birth control mandate does not include any "abortion-causing medications." Rather, it includes emergency contraception, which prevents pregnancy. But the U.S. Catholic bishops have frequently and publicly objected to the contraception coverage requirement based on the claim that it includes "abortifacients."

The university did not offer any alternatives to its nearly 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students, but it did suggest they begin looking for other ways to pay for health care.

"We encourage you to decide how you are going to provide for accidents or illnesses requiring visits to physicians, health clinics, or the hospital emergency room while you are a student here," the announcement said.

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