The University of Notre Dame has flip-flopped again: The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, announced on Feb. 7 that university-sponsored health insurance plans for students and staff will stop covering some forms of birth control. The decision will affect more than 17,000 people who rely on the school for health insurance.
That’s yet another reversal in course from the university in less than six months. In November, Notre Dame promised that its plans would continue to provide students and employees with a method for accessing birth control.
A few weeks before that, Notre Dame was one of the first and most prominent organizations to announce it would take advantage of new rules proposed on Oct. 6 by the Trump administration that would allow employers and universities to cite religious beliefs as justification for denying women access to birth control.
In October, AU, joined by the National Women’s Law Center and the law firm Dentons, filed a federal lawsuit, Shiraef v. Hargan, challenging the Trump rules because they discriminate against women and violate religious freedom. The lawsuit’s plaintiffs included several Notre Dame students whose access to contraception was in jeopardy.
After the lawsuit was filed, Notre Dame reversed course and promised its insurance plans would include birth control. Since that meant AU’s plaintiffs had access to birth control, AU and the NWLC on Feb. 2 withdrew the case.
“We’re pleased that students at the University of Notre Dame will have access to affordable birth control,” said Richard B. Katskee, AU’s legal director. “This is a victory for women’s health. Should the school decide to take advantage of the new rules in the future to deny women coverage, we’ll be back in court.”
But days after the case was withdrawn, Jenkins issued a letter to the Notre Dame community with a new position: While the university will continue to provide coverage for “simple contraceptives (i.e., drugs designed to prevent conception),” it will stop covering some forms of birth control it considers “abortion-inducing.”
It was not immediately clear what forms of birth control Notre Dame will refuse to cover in its plans, but it could include IUDs, the morning-after pill or other long-acting contraceptives – types of FDA-approved birth control women depend upon. These methods don’t induce abortion, but some religiously affiliated institutions have relied on bad science to claim that they do.
Notre Dame was supposed to clarify its latest position in March; that had not happened as this issue of Church & State went to press. In an effort to gather more information, AU and the NWLC filed a Freedom of Information Act request March 12 with federal officials to learn what sort of arrangement they have made with the university.