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Notre Dame reverses position, allows birth control coverage through insurance

Doug Mainwaring Doug Mainwaring Follow Doug

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, November 8, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — In a stunning about-face, the University of Notre Dame reversed its decision to halt free birth control coverage for employees.

The Catholic university had issued a statement weeks earlier saying in response to the Trump administration’s recent rollback of the Obamacare contraceptive mandate that it would no longer provide free birth control coverage through the University’s health insurance plans. 

Earlier in the month, the White House, in what was hailed as a victory for religious liberty, announced that effective immediately, all for- and nonprofit employers and insurers could choose to ignore the contraceptive mandate on moral and religious grounds, no questions asked.

Notre Dame’s pro-life, pro-religious liberty decision lasted about a week

On Tuesday, employees received an email saying "The University of Notre Dame, as a Catholic Institution, follows Catholic teaching about the use of contraceptives and engaged in the recent lawsuit to protect its freedom to act in accord with its principles.”  

The email continued, “Recognizing, however, the plurality of religious and other convictions among its employees, it will not interfere with the provision of contraceptives that will be administered and funded independently of the University."

It remains unclear what prompted the reversal.  

Perhaps it was to avoid future litigation. The South Bend Tribune reported that when the university announced it would discontinue free contraception, “Two national advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit Oct. 31 challenging the Trump administration rule change. The suit was filed on behalf of five women who say they will be denied birth control coverage, including three Notre Dame students.”

According to the Associated Press, “The lawsuit was filed by the National Women's Law Center and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.”

Negative press coverage and statements issued by liberal organizations may have also played a role.  

The Los Angeles Times published a headline blaring, “Ending birth control coverage, Notre Dame abandons its progressive legacy on women's rights.”

Refinery 29 interviewed Notre Dame students after the University announced the discontinuation of free birth control coverage.

"I felt like we had been going on the right direction in campus," she said. "And then, to have the university come out and say they won't cover contraception is a regressive standpoint on women's healthcare."

"For me, if you're preventing students from having access to contraceptive care because you're trying to make everyone adhere to your religious beliefs, that's incompatible with your commitment to diversity."

Time Magazine published an opinion piece by two Notre Dame students who said, “Catholicism is not an excuse to ransack our healthcare.” They continued, “We merely want Notre Dame to respect our bodily autonomy and not hinder our access to reproductive healthcare. We don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Reaction to the reinstatement

NARAL Pro-Choice America applauded the move to reinstate free contraception, saying, “Freedom of religion is not the freedom to impose your beliefs on others.  Big win for Notre Dame faculty & students.” 

Pro-Life America reacted differently.  

“Public policy can deliver on protecting rights of conscience, as it has here, but it can’t supply the fortitude to act,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute and a Notre Dame graduate. “Notre Dame has now accepted the Obama ‘accommodation’ when it was fully entitled to an exemption from this onerous law covering abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and other drugs and devices to which it has faithfully and historically objected.”  

“The government is a jealous taskmaster and its impositions, though blocked for a time under the Trump exemptions, are likely to return with even greater force and wider application, including to elective abortion,” Donovan continued. “Notre Dame still has time to strengthen its hand today and in future struggles by abandoning the Obama accommodation and insisting on the full exercise of conscience as a Catholic institution.  I pray it will do so, and soon.”

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