Americans United for Separation of Church and State last night filed a legal motion with a federal court seeking permission to intervene on behalf of three University of Notre Dame students who want to ensure that their health-care plan includes access to contraceptives. The students lack the financial means to purchase contraception on their own.
In the motion, Americans United asked the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana, South Bend Division, to permit the group to intervene in University of Notre Dame v. Sebelius.
AU seeks to intervene on behalf of female students who would be denied access to affordable birth control if the university is granted full exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception-coverage requirements, which call for group health plans to offer a health-care policy that includes no-cost birth control.
Americans United Executive Director the Rev. Barry W. Lynn said the court should not reduce birth control access to Notre Dame students and employees.
“In all of the talk about the so-called religious liberty rights of Notre Dame, something has been overlooked: the women who would be hurt,” said Lynn. “The university’s leaders are free to preach against birth control, but they shouldn’t have the right to deny necessary medication to anyone.”
Houses of worship and ministries are exempt from the contraceptive-coverage provisions; other accommodations have been made for religiously affiliated entities, such as church schools and hospitals and universities like Notre Dame.
Notre Dame nonetheless filed a lawsuit Dec. 3 contesting the Obama administration’s accommodation, which simply requires religiously affiliated groups to certify that they do not wish to cover contraceptives. This then triggers an obligation on an entirely independent third-party insurer to offer contraceptive coverage to affected individuals. The religiously affiliated entities will not themselves bear any financial or other responsibility for that coverage.
The university says that this accommodation would force the school to violate Roman Catholic teachings, and it claims that compliance with the accommodation suggests that the school condones the use of birth control -- even though it is merely being asked to state that it does not offer coverage for contraception.
Americans United says the school remains free to take whatever positions it wants on birth control. What it cannot do is stand in the way of independent entities' offering that coverage to women. That's especially true when that coverage is essential to women's well-being.
Americans United's attempt to intervene marks the first time that affected women have sought to play a formal role in any of the dozens of challenges that have been brought to the Affordable Care Act. The voices of these women -- who bring a perspective that is distinct from the federal government’s official position -- deserves to be heard.
Asserts AU in its motion, “Even if the University’s religious exercise were substantially burdened by the challenged regulations, there is a compelling interest for the imposition of that burden, namely, providing the affected women with access to contraception and the consequent control over their sexual lives, bodily integrity, and reproductive capacity.”
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.