Irish 4 Reproductive Health, a student group at the University of Notre Dame, together with several individuals insured by the university, sued the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor as well as Notre Dame itself for entering into an agreement to deny students, university employees, and their dependents insurance coverage of birth control, in violation of U.S. Constitution and federal law.
The lawsuit, filed last week by the National Women’s Law Center, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the law firm Macey Swanson LLP, challenges an agreement made between the Trump-Pence Administration and Notre Dame to settle a previous lawsuit brought by the university opposing the birth control coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Under the ACA, health plans are required to cover all FDA-approved birth control methods and related services without any additional out-of-pocket costs. The settlement agreement allows Notre Dame to ignore the ACA by denying coverage outright for certain methods of birth control, including IUDs and emergency contraceptives, and forcing individuals to pay out-of-pocket for other methods.
Under the current rules, only houses of worship are exempt from the ACA birth control coverage requirement. Religiously-affiliated non profits and some for-profit corporations who have religious objections to birth control coverage can request an accommodation that would prevent these employers from paying for this coverage, while allowing insured individuals to receive birth control without additional costs. Notre Dame and others had previously sued the federal government to challenge the accommodation process. Nine federal courts of appeal rejected these challenges, including the one from Notre Dame. The cases went to the Supreme Court, which, in 2016, sent them back down to the lower courts to be resolved.
Subsequently, in October 2017, the Trump-Pence Administration issued interim final rules that would allow almost any employer who alleges a religious or moral objection to birth control to deny coverage. Two federal courts–in Pennsylvania and California–blocked these rules almost immediately, in December 2017.
The settlement agreement, entered into without any input from impacted individuals, however appears to reflect the interim rules.
“It’s illegal for the Trump Administration to take away people’s right to contraceptive coverage behind closed doors,” said National Women’s Law Center President and CEO Fatima Goss Graves. “We are exposing this deceptive tactic and taking the Administration and Notre Dame to court to stop them from chipping away at our right to control our bodies and lives. People deserve birth control coverage, no matter where they work or go to school.”
In their lawsuit, the students ask the the federal district court to invalidate the settlement agreement, which is set to go into effect on July 1, and block the federal government and Notre Dame from relying on or enforcing the interim rules.
Media Resources: National Women’s Law Center, Press Release 6/26/18; Reuters 12/21/17, 5/16/16; New York Times 12/15/17; Feminist Newswire 10/6/17, 2/25/14