The University of Notre Dame has announced to its employees and students that it plans to end birth control coverage in 2018, following broad religious exemptions recently added to the federal contraceptive mandate. According to Indiana Public Media, the University sent out letters to staff and students Oct. 27 informing them of the coming changes, which will go into effect in January 2018 and August 2018 respectively.
Notre Dame is taking advantage of recently-added religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which were announced by the Department of Health and Human Services Oct. 6. Father John Jenkins, president of the university, welcomed the changes because "critical issues of religious freedom were at stake." "For that reason, we welcome this reversal and applaud the attorney general’s statement that ‘except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,'" he said in an Oct. 6 statement.
Previously, the Catholic university was one of several organizations that sued the government over the federal contraceptive mandate, which required most organizations to provide birth control coverage either directly or through a third party service. As a Catholic institution, Notre Dame objected to this mandate on the grounds that all forms of contraception are against Catholic moral teaching. The university, along with dozens of other Catholic institutions, argued in the lawsuit that the third party option would still make them cooperate in an act to which they were morally opposed.
A federal judge ruled that the mandate did not infringe on the university’s religious freedom, and Notre Dame was legally obligated to allow for contraceptive coverage through the third party service. Now, the new broadening of exemptions to the contraceptive mandate on religious or moral grounds will allow the university to drop all coverage of birth control. Notre Dame will still cover birth control medications or procedures if they are being used as a treatment for other medical problems, such as endometriosis.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, challenging the new religious exemptions. The recent expansion of religious and moral exemptions to the contraceptive mandate was issued the same day that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined new principles of religious freedom that federal agencies and departments were to adopt.
Speaking to CNA Oct. 6, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said the new religious freedom protections, including the contraception exemptions, were a “victory for the First Amendment, and a victory for all Americans, even those who don’t agree with the Church’s” teaching on contraception. “I think it restores a balance that was lacking,” said the archbishop, who is chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty. “It permits us to do our ministries” without violating Catholic moral principles, he added.