Federal Appeals Court Rules In Americans United’s Favor In Case Concerning Access To Contraceptives At Notre Dame

Church-State Watchdog Represented Women At Risk Of Losing Access To Vital Medical Care At Catholic School

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that federal regulations designed to protect women’s access to birth control do not infringe on the religious-liberty rights of the University of Notre Dame.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling 2-1, upheld a regulation issued under the Affordable Care Act that permits religious non-profits to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to employees and students by notifying either their insurance company or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of their religious objection.

Once a non-profit opts out, federal law requires that their insurance company then separately make contraceptive coverage available to affected employees and students at no cost to, and without further involvement by, the non-profit.

“[B]ased on the sparse record before us, there is a strong argument that given the government’s legitimate interest in the provision of contraceptive coverage to women without cost to them, notice to the government would strike the proper balance between legitimate governmental and sincere religious interests,” observed the court in University of Notre Dame v. Burwell.

Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, who argued the case, welcomed the ruling.

“Notre Dame officials argued that the mere act of informing the government that they do not want to provide birth control somehow violates their religious liberty,” Khan said. “This stands common sense on its head.”

"If Notre Dame were to have its way, its students and employees would lack access to insurance coverage for contraceptives. The University has every right not to provide that coverage itself; but it has no right to stand in the way of others doing so," Khan added.

The lawsuit was brought by the university in December 2013. School officials claim that the contraceptive mandate requires the school to violate Catholic doctrine – even though an accommodation has been granted that ensures the school does not have to pay for or provide contraceptives.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.