Just one week after the announcement the University of Notre Dame would be ending its insurance coverage of free contraceptives, the school did an about-face and informed employees and students that birth control would still be provided to them without cost.
USA Today reports the university changed its course “after an onslaught of criticism, national press and social media attention, and threatened lawsuits from groups representing students, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.”
The original announcement of the end to free contraceptive coverage came as the Trump administration reversed Obamacare’s HHS contraceptive mandate for employers who have religious or moral objections to contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. Under the mandate, most employers in the United States were forced to provide these items free of charge to employees, or else face fines. As a result of the Trump administration’s reversal of the Obama-era rule, Catholic employers, including schools, were among those freed from the mandate.
Notre Dame itself was one of the plaintiffs in a religious freedom lawsuit against the Obama administration. Several years ago, the school filed a waiver stating it held a religious objection to the mandate as part of what the Obama administration termed an “accommodation” for religious employers. As such, the tactic allowed a way for a third-party administrator to serve as a money-handler for the contraceptive coverage.
Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins said about the lawsuit at the time that “critical issues of religious freedom were at stake.”
As the South Bend Tribune notes, Notre Dame was one of the first employers to announce a drop in the free contraceptive coverage following the Trump administration’s decision. According to the report, a Notre Dame spokesman has since released the following statement:
After the US Health and Human Services announcement on Oct. 6, we believed that insurance companies would discontinue no cost coverage for contraceptives for employees at the end of the year. Since then, we have been informed that Meritain Health/OptumRx will continue such coverage indefinitely. 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. 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.
According to the Tribune report, Notre Dame students will also continue to receive free birth control through an Aetna Student Health program, though they were recently also informed their free contraceptive coverage would end in August.
When the initial announcement of the halt to free contraceptive coverage was announced, graduate student Louise Williams told the Tribune, “I was expecting something like this.” She added Notre Dame wants to adhere to the beliefs of its Catholic faith but is not supportive of students who are unable to afford to have a child while engaged actively in a study program.