Early this week, the University of Notre Dame announced that beginning in January 2018 the university insurance plan will no longer include birth control coverage for students except in cases where it is being used “for a medical condition and not as pregnancy prevention.”
There are over 18,000 students and staff at the University of Notre Dame, and ninety percent of faculty and staff are reliant on the university’s insurance plan. It is still unclear whether this action by the university will encourage other universities to adopt similar restrictions. It is likely that other private religious universities will follow in their footsteps.
Mary Shiraef is currently a student at Notre Dame. She released a statement following her university’s change in insurance policy, discussing the benefits she has experienced as a result of having access to contraceptives, stating, “It means I get to focus on my task at hand- working toward a Ph.D. – in equitable measure to my male colleagues. It has also improved my overall health.”
The university’s decision is a direct result of the Trump Administration’s new rule to exempt, for religious beliefs and moral convictions, all employers, universities and insurance companies from the mandate in the Affordable Care Act to cover contraception without co-pays or deductibles. The Affordable Care Act mandate requiring employers and universities to provide plans that cover birth control still exists, but the rule creates a massive loophole that schools like the University of Notre Dame will take advantage of to deny women the right to make their own healthcare decisions.
“The administration couldn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act and kick over 32 million people off of health insurance so they have settled for undermining women’s access, not only to family planning, but also to contraception that’s used to treat serious medical conditions,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “These new rules are, by definition, a discriminatory attack on women. Women’s bodies and healthcare should not be subject to the opinion of their employer. For right-wing politicians to even suggest so is misogynistic, patronizing lunacy.”
The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit in a federal District Court in Indiana arguing that the new rule violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five women, three of whom are students at the University of Notre Dame. Fatima Graves of NWLC stated, “Blocking access to basic health care that 99 percent of women use at some point in their lives is unlawful, discriminatory and harmful.”
Media Sources: MSNBC 11/1/17, Slate 10/31/17, Vox 10/31/17, ACLU 10/6/17, WRAL 10/31/17; Chicago Tribune 11/3/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 10/6/17