SOUTH BEND, Indiana – The University of Notre Dame has announced that it will fund “simple contraceptives” through its insurance plan.
In November 2017, the university announced that students or employees and students on its insurance plans would be eligible to receive them through a third-party insurance administrator.
That move came as a surprise to many because the university was one of several Catholic organizations that filed suit over the 2012 federal contraceptive mandate, and in October had said it would cut contraceptive coverage from its insurance plans.
The university’s most recent decision was announced Feb. 7 in a letter from university president, Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins. Catholic News Agency obtained a copy of the letter.
In the letter, Jenkins said that while the school should remain “unwavering in our fidelity to our Catholic mission,” the other religious beliefs and practices of members of the Notre Dame community should be respected. This is why, in November, the university decided that it would continue to provide contraceptive coverage for those who had “made conscientious decisions about the use of such drugs.”
However, Jenkins has now taken issue with the range of drugs covered under this third-party provider, which, “includes the provision of abortion-inducing drugs.” Jenkins said such drugs are “far more gravely objectionable in Catholic teaching.” Jenkins did not delineate exactly which contraceptive drugs he considered to be more objectionable than others.
Due to the inclusion of these drugs, Jenkins says that the school’s own insurance plan will directly cover a limited range of contraceptive drugs.
“Instead, the University will provide coverage in the University’s own insurance plans for simple contraceptives (i.e., drugs designed to prevent conception),” as well as funding for Church-approved natural family planning methods, said Jenkins. He did not name which drugs would be covered by the school’s plan.
Prior to the 2012 mandate, the school did not provide contraception coverage in its insurance plans, except when prescribed to treat a medical condition. Jenkins’ letter said that Notre Dame’s participation in the suit was an effort “to protect its ability to act in accord with its religious mission,” and the positive outcome had secured the school’s “right to decide.”
Jenkins said that in November he had “thought it best…to allow the government-funded provision of these drugs and services to continue so that our employees could have access without University funding or immediate and direct involvement in their provision.”
“The government-funded program, however, also includes abortifacients, which, because they involve the destruction of innocent human life, are most gravely objectionable in the Catholic tradition. With further thought, wider consultation and more information, I concluded that it was best to reconsider this decision.”
The letter also said that Notre Dame “will provide to all who sign up for health care benefits a statement of the Catholic teaching on contraceptives, so that the Church’s teaching is clearly presented.”
“Although Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical letter, Humanae vitae, written nearly fifty years ago now, has been controversial within and without Catholic circles since its publication, its prophetic quality is clear,” Jenkins wrote.
About 17,000 people, including employees of the school as well as students who are not covered by their parents’ plans due to either age or some other factor, use Notre Dame’s insurance plans.
Nearly two years after the Affordable Care Act was passed in March 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate saying that contraception drugs must be covered under insurance policies. The mandate offered narrowly-defined exemptions for religious employers. In October 2017, the Trump Administration issued broad exemptions to the mandate, giving relief to religious non-profits and others with deeply held religious or moral convictions regarding contraception.