As we’ve previously reported, the University of Notre Dame keeps changing its mind over whether it will comply with the Affordable Care Act and cover all FDA-approved forms of birth control on student and faculty health insurance plans. No employer or university should be able to use religion to dictate their employees’ or students’ health care choices. Birth control protects women’s health and helps women plan their families; it allows them to participate in the workforce and pursue their education. In other words, it is critical to their health and equality.
In its latest move, Notre Dame announced that it would cover some, but not all, of the required forms of contraception. Last week, the school attempted to clarify its position, but its announcement is both discouraging and confusing.
Frequently Asked Questions on the university’s health services website state that student insurance will not cover copper IUDs or emergency contraception. That’s a straight-up violation of the Affordable Care Act. The FAQs further say that the university will refuse to cover contraceptives that prevent “implantation or interference with the development of a pregnancy.” No word on what types of contraception the university considers to fall under that definition, but one thing is clear: By denying students access to the full range of contraceptive methods, the university is violating students’ rights.
If a student wants to use a form of birth control that isn’t covered under the insurance plan, she will have to pay the full out-of-pocket price for it. The up-front costs of many contraceptive methods – particularly the most effective methods like IUDS – can be daunting for any woman, not to mention anyone on a student’s budget. And speaking of high costs, Notre Dame’s FAQs also say that students will be required to pay a co-pay even when they are seeking a method of contraception that is covered on their health insurance. That’s another blatant violation of the Affordable Care Act.
If all that weren’t bad enough, the university also says that doctors at the on-campus health center may not prescribe contraception to undergraduate students under any circumstances. Undergraduates will therefore have to find an off-campus doctor to prescribe them basic health care. Graduate and post-baccalaureate students can get contraception prescriptions at the on-campus health center, an arbitrary distinction that’s good for those students but makes little, if any, sense.
Americans United has represented Notre Dame students who need access to contraception and we are closely monitoring the university’s latest move. Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. So is a woman’s right to make her own decisions about healthcare. We will continue to fight for religious freedom and women’s health and equality.