01/31/2012 05:34 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2012

On Catholic Colleges and Contraception

In the aftermath of the Penn State scandal, I heard many parents of adolescents saying, "No kid of mine will attend that school." I was one of them. I still am. That "no kid of mine" list of colleges got a bit longer today.

My 17-year-old daughter is beginning to look at colleges. Recently a discussion of Catholic colleges, which started at our dinner table, spurred a more or less unprecedented (Catholics vs. Jews) disagreement between her parents. (My husband of 26.5 years is Jewish; I am an active Catholic.) My daughter and husband dismissed the Catholic college option summarily. I confess, this got my back up. I have a lot of Catholic pride! But as I read Denise Grady's front page report in the New York Times, on the topic of Roman Catholic colleges and contraceptionthis morning, I realized I would be turning to the husband over dinner tonight to voice that most difficult (spouse-to-spouse) utterance: "Honey, you were right."

As the Times article indicates, 98 percent of Catholic women have used artifical contraception. 98 percent sounds right to me but it's hard to know. The lockstep papal apologist set will quickly disclaim, reminding us all that the New York City paper of record in this very Catholic town has an anti-Catholic bias. Let's say, hypothetically, that The Times is only half correct in reporting that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraception. That still leaves great number of young, fertile, sexually active Catholic women enrolled in Catholic universities who need/use contraception.

The law in New York requires medical personnel at Fordham University (a Jesuit university) to pay for oral contraceptives, which are often prescribed for medical reasons other than contraception. Women at Catholic colleges should know that birth control pills are prescribed for excessive bleeding, uncommonly painful menstruation, to prevent ovarian cysts and sometimes even for skin disorders. Women can request the pill for these conditions at Catholic colleges, stipulating that they are not intended for contraception, and possibly still receive prescriptions for them. But according to the Times, the school found a workaround; Fordham avoids paying for the pills by simply prohibiting (or discouraging) its medical personnel from prescribing them.

My 17-year-old daughter identifies as Jewish -- a thing I not only love and support in her but which I fervently promoted -- but she has always taken part in the secular aspects of my parish life. As a girl approaching womanhood, she remains deeply committed to sharing her time and talent in ways she learned through parish life. For the past decade she has worked enthusiastically and happily in a few different areas of what we call "social justice." To this extent I see her as having a (however secular, and tangential) connection to my Roman Catholic tradition. For this reason, I wasn't quite so quick as my girl and her father were to leave Catholic colleges off her list.

For reasons having little to do with religious affiliation, the Catholic colleges were not destined, really, to wind up at the top of the daughter's list, but when the topic of Catholic colleges came up, I rose to the occasion of defending them, pointing out, as I did, that many non-Catholics attend Catholic colleges. I reminded my family members that as an educator I feel that Jesuits do a good job at teaching young people to think philosophically. I cited the Roman Catholic track record on social justice and the emphasis a Catholic education at the university level sometimes places upon it.

But I militated softly, because even before today, I suppose I wanted my daughter at a school with a Hillel House. I wanted to know she was living somewhere where she could celebrate Shabbos or attend/prepare a Seder if she were unable to come home during Passover. Diversity is important to our family, not just in the abstract, and tolerance is not diversity. I quickly came to see that my husband and daughter were probably right about Catholic colleges.

But today, I realized that it would be I, the Catholic in the family, who would be putting the kibosh on Catholic colleges tonight if there were one on my girl's list, because there is no way I'd authorize the $50,000.00 per annum payments to a school that would use its religious freedoms to cheat my daughter of medical care.

I happen to have some old-fashioned hopes for my daughters when it comes to their love lives. I happen to have some old-fashioned views on what sex is for. I actually view sex as a gift which in the context of genuine, committed love, can reflect the light and love of the divine. I would rather, however, see my daughters, nieces, god-daughters and their friends have access to contraception than to see any of them forced to endure an abortion.

Making contraception available prevents abortions.

No one has to choose a Catholic college, and these schools enjoy the right to religious freedom.
Catholic colleges have the right to make their own rules with regard to the provision of birth control through their health services -- as long as those colleges are not receiving government funding.

I believe, however, that those (Catholics and otherwise) considering Catholic colleges might wish to think twice before enrolling their daughters in schools that would deny them medical treatment. There are a lot of great universities and colleges out there, on which to spend the roughly $200,00.00 it costs to put a student through private college.