Notre Dame reverses decision to end birth control coverage

Posted at 6:48 PM, Nov 08, 2017

Reversing an earlier decision, the University of Notre Dame will continue providing students and employees with access to birth control free of charge.

The Catholic institution was one of the first major employers to take advantage of the Trump administration's weakening of Obamacare's contraceptive mandate.

Notre Dame, which had long battled the Obama administration over the provision, said in late October that it would end coverage for employees after Dec. 31 and for students after Aug. 14. The university said it objects to the mandate based on its religious beliefs.

Students and employees quickly protested the decision, holding a demonstration and creating an online petition.

Under Obamacare, insurance plans had to cover contraception for women without charging a co-pay. A fairly limited number of employers -- mainly churches and some other religious entities -- could get an exemption to the mandate.

Some other employers, such as religious-based universities or hospitals, could seek accommodations so that they didn't have to provide coverage, but their workers could still obtain contraceptives paid for by the insurer or the employer's plan administrator. Notre Dame's students and workers received coverage this way.

The Trump administration, however, issued new rules last month that would let a broad range of employers stop offering contraceptive coverage through their health insurance plans if they have a "sincerely held religious or moral objection."

In his annual faculty address Tuesday, Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, said the university had decided to keep the accommodation for employees in place.

"As I have said from the start, the university's interest has never been in preventing access to those who make conscientious decisions to use contraceptives," he said. "Our interest, rather, has been to avoid being compelled by the federal government to be the agent in their provision."

A university spokesman confirmed that students would continue to have access to no-cost birth control, as well.

Notre Dame's initial response was based on its belief that it could no longer utilize the accommodation because the new rule would prompt insurers to discontinue providing no-cost contraceptives. It then learned that carriers would maintain the coverage anyway.

"We have made the decision not to interfere with the provision of contraceptives administered by insurance administrators and funded independently," said Paul Browne, Notre Dame's vice president for public affairs.

Graduate students cheered the reversal.

"We are grateful and relieved that we were able to help push the administration to respect the Notre Dame community members' right to reproductive healthcare," said the Graduate Workers Collective, an independent group of graduate students.