‘Tis the season of students heading off to college. Parents across the country tearfully wave goodbye, as the child they spent 18 years mentoring and guiding walks toward the dorm carrying Costco-sized boxes of granola bars. Then Mom and Dad pray to God that their child eats healthy, doesn’t party too hard, and goes to church every Sunday.
Parents know that college is a crucial formative period in life, a time when students begin to make their own choices and settle their own beliefs as independent young adults. Sadly, Dynamic Catholic states that 85 percent of Catholic young adults stop practicing their faith within ten years of their confirmation, with many of them lapsing during college.
To insure against this, some parents and students invest in faith-based education, often at greater cost than other choices. That’s why it is essential that colleges that use their “Catholicism” as a recruiting tool to attract graduating high-school seniors and their families live out their faith and accept the challenges of not only educating students for their future career paths, but also of instructing them in the beliefs the Church holds, preserves, and spreads. Nowhere is this more important than on the issue of abortion and a faith-based approach to fertility.
Saint John Paul II noted that contraception and abortion are “fruits of the same tree.” “Indeed,” he wrote, “the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected” (Evangelium Vitae, 13).
Yet it is no secret that there are multiple universities that claim to be Catholic and yet go against one of the core principles of Catholic moral teaching by promoting and complying with the culture at large on artificial birth control.
Take St. Louis University (SLU). It recently emerged that the ostensibly Catholic institution is covering sterilization and birth control in its student health plan. So, while proudly proclaiming its Catholic identity, SLU is simultaneously covering harmful hormonal birth-control drugs that can act as abortifacients. Drugs such as birth-control pills, IUDs, morning-after pills, and Ella may thin the uterine lining to prevent a pregnancy from coming to term. This uterine-thinning prevents implantation of the newly formed zygote, and thus ends a human life.
Not only is hormonal birth control potentially fatal to tiny humans; it is also harmful to the women taking it. Hormonal contraceptives are classified as “Group 1” carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. This puts the birth-control pill in the same category as tobacco and asbestos. By disrupting major bodily functions, such as the endocrine, neurological, and immune systems, hormonal contraception can affect energy levels, memory, concentration, adrenalin levels, and even motor coordination.
Women deserve better than drugs that prevent their bodies from functioning the way they were designed to. If any institution should be protecting women and preborn children — or, at least, refusing to be complicit in harming them — it should be a university that identifies as Catholic.
Consider the teaching from Saint John Paul II: “At the origin of every human person there is a creative act of God. No man comes into existence by chance; he is always the object of God’s creative love.
“From this fundamental truth of faith and reason it follows that the procreative capacity, inscribed in human sexuality, is — in its deepest truth — a cooperation with God’s creative power. And it also follows that man and woman are not the arbiters, are not the masters of this same capacity, called as they are, in it and through it, to be participants in God’s creative decision.”
If schools want to help women avoid pregnancy, they should empower women with education about their fertility and fertility awareness-based methods employed not only to avoid pregnancy but eventually to achieve pregnancy as well — no carcinogens needed.
St. Louis University isn’t the only institution failing to live out the core beliefs of the religion they identify with. Students for Life of America, where I work as national field director, researched over 700 Christian campuses and identified many that have ties to Planned Parenthood, the No. 1 abortion provider nationwide.
There is a better way. Indeed, one of the many reasons I am proud to be a practicing Catholic is that the Church has never been silent in opposing abortion violence and embracing all life, even from the earliest stages of conception. In choosing to identify as a Catholic institution, SLU must have a moral and ethical obligation to abide by the Church’s teaching on contraception. To do otherwise is false advertising and weakens the Church as a united front, diluting a faith that has been proudly practiced for more than 2,000 years. It is the duty of practicing Catholics to hold these organizations accountable to this teaching, and to call them out for their hypocrisy on their claims of Catholic identity. (This is one of the goals of Students for Life of America’s accountability project.)
Faith-based schools should promote their views, not make them one-size-fits-all. When a student enrolls in a private university affiliated with the Catholic Church, that student should have an expectation that the school will boldly and unapologetically stand for the truth on which it was founded. The Catholic Church will not, and should not, succumb to the pressures of the modern sexualized world. We should remember that it’s not just parents who have chosen to invest in a Catholic education for their children who are counting on such institutions for reliable instruction in the faith. Millions of innocent human beings are counting on them as well.