Today, Americans United asked the Seventh Circuit to allow a student at the University of Notre Dame to defend her right to health insurance that covers contraception, despite Notre Dame’s ongoing litigation to deprive its students and faculty of that coverage. If permitted to join the suit, Ann Doe will be one of only two people in the nation (both represented by Americans United) who have that special role, voicing the concerns of women all across the country who risk being denied insurance coverage for contraception if religiously affiliated universities, hospitals, and other organizations are allowed to impose their religious beliefs on their students and employees.
Under the Affordable Care Act, Notre Dame is not required to provide coverage for contraception as part of the health-insurance plans that it offers to students and employees. All it has to do is sign a one-page form to let its insurance company or the government know that it has a religious objection to providing contraception. At that point, the insurance company must make sure that none of the objecting institution’s money goes to fund the contraceptive coverage that the company provides—and legally must provide—to students, faculty, and staff.
But that isn’t good enough for Notre Dame. For two and a half years, the university has gone up and down the federal court system—including making two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court—arguing that the bare act of opting out of providing contraceptive coverage violates its religious beliefs because students, faculty, and staff at the university will still get the coverage, albeit without costing Notre Dame a dime. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s non-decision in Zubik v. Burwell, Notre Dame’s case and similar cases across the nation are now back in the federal appellate courts, as the government tries to find a way to make Notre Dame and other colleges and hospitals feel better without depriving women of the health insurance to which they have a legal right.
In the meantime, tens of thousands of women remain in limbo. A Notre Dame victory will hurt real women.
Ann Doe is one of these women. For two years—first as an employee at Notre Dame and now as a student—Ann (who can’t use her real name for fear of retaliation by the university) has struggled, and failed, to get the contraceptive care that she wants and is legally entitled to receive. What was supposed to be a seamless, costless process under the Affordable Care Act has become a source of stress, frustration, and anger. Ann wants to participate in Notre Dame’s case so that she can tell the court why access to insurance for contraception services is so important to her, and to explain how Notre Dame’s attempts to keep her from getting that coverage will harm her.
Ann’s voice is sorely needed, as the government and the university debate whether she, and countless other women like her, will have access to affordable contraception. Americans United is excited to represent Ann and her fellow student in making sure that the courts understand what is really at stake here—the freedom of all Americans not to have the religious beliefs of others forced on them.