Notre Dame Employees and Students Recover Birth Control Coverage

Author: Ashley Lo


Notre Dame’s third-party health plan partners will continue to provide contraceptives to plan members, the university announced on Nov. 7. 

The decision came as a major turnabout after the university notified faculty and staff on Oct. 27 that Notre Dame would act on the Trump Administration overhaul of an Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” mandate that required employers to provide birth control coverage. 

Employees and students received an email on Tuesday notifying them of the reversal, which recognized “the plurality of other convictions among its employees,” stated Sharon McMullen, director of University Health Services. 

Third-party partners Meritain Health/OptumRx will continue to provide contraceptives at no charge. In recent years, Aetna provided coverage, separate from the university, for additional women’s health products, allowing the university to comply with federal health law while maintaining its religious opposition to contraceptives. 

After Notre Dame announced itself the first major institution to act on the rollback last month, the university has attracted media attention and has faced various criticisms from students and employees. 

University Spokesman Dennis Brown said the previous opposition to the previous mandate was not about contraception, but rather about religious freedom. “We are not trying to stop anyone from using contraceptives. If they want to, that’s their right,” said Brown. However, Brown stated it was a “direct encroachment on the First Amendment right to religious liberty.”

“This change would prevent bright young women from seeking admission to Notre Dame,” said Kate Rochat, a third-year law student. Rochat is a plaintiff in an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit that is challenging the issued rule by the Trump administration that allows institutions to refuse to cover contraceptives. 
The Graduate Workers Collective (GWC) released a petition for reproductive health care on Nov. 1 in opposition to the birth control drop. The petition served  “to demonstrate the diversity of values" and demanded officials to "reexamine their consciousnesses.” 
The issue of contraceptive coverage has been a controversial debate for Notre Dame. Last month, the GWC hosted a demonstration in front of the main building to show disapproval of university support for the Trump administration rollback. The protested, titled “March for Reproductive Freedom,” was a response to Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.’s statement that the university “welcome[s] the reversal” of the Obamacare mandate, according to the Observer.

“Notre Dame already makes it unnecessarily difficult for women to access their contraceptive medication by requiring students to leave campus in order to pick up these prescriptions,” said Isabel Rooper, director of gender relations for student government.“Notre Dame fails students by pressuring them to assimilate to its Catholicism-driven paternalism.”

Others, however, feel that it is Notre Dame’s right to make this choice. "In my opinion, Notre Dame has made the absolute right decision," said senior Sophia Buono, the former editor-in-chief of The Irish Rover. "For a Catholic institution, there should be no question about the matter. It certainly creates an inconvenience for those at the university who want contraception, but inconvenience is not the same as violation."

"I don't think anyone expects differential or discriminatory treatment when they come to a university to engage in higher learning," said the spokesperson for the GWC. She said graduate students are assured during interviews that religion will not be forced upon students or interfere with their research. 

For the 705 undergraduates and 2,315 post baccalaureate enrollees in the student's health plan, Aetna intends to follow the same course as Meritain Health/OptumRx in providing birth control coverage for plan members. However, plan changes are not finalized until late spring, according to McMullen’s email statement.