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Notre Dame doesn’t owe you birth control

| Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Firestorms erupted across social media after the University announced it would discontinue birth control coverage for students and employees. Students, alumni and pundits alike have shared their criticisms, showering the administration with a vast array of accusations ranging from elitism to misogyny.

Insurers’ recent announcements that they will continue to provide birth control coverage regardless of University policy will undoubtedly temper some of the widespread public outrage. But as long as criticism of the University’s decision continues to make the rounds on social media, I feel compelled to defend the administration’s choice and explain why these criticisms remain unfounded.

Those who point fingers at the administration have ignored the key issue at the heart of the matter: religious freedom. Religious beliefs, not a fascination with discipline or a hatred of women inherent to Catholicism, have driven the administration’s choice. As a Catholic university, Notre Dame is well within its right to discontinue birth control coverage. Expecting a Catholic university to subsidize birth control requires the same level of naivety as walking into Brigham Young and demanding free Irish coffee would. Demanding that an institution defy its religious beliefs to support your sex life — something for which you, and nobody else, should be held responsible speaks to a sense of entitlement.

Religious freedom aside, I would like to take a moment to debate some of the individual accusations being leveled at the University. For starters, many opponents of the new policy allege the University wants to discriminate against women. This accusation not only trivializes the much deeper issue of religious freedom, but also ignores the fact that this supposedly women-hating university does not provide male birth control either. Notre Dame might not be handing out pills, but it certainly isn’t handing out condoms.

Those who cry sexism also ignore the fact that if the University really hated women, it wouldn’t have made a medical exception to the new birth control mandate. Notre Dame will still subsidize birth control for those who require it for health reasons. In terms of health-care policy, this makes sense: Birth control used solely for contraception has less to do with health than it has to do with sexual freedom. Hence, the inclusion of non-medical birth control on a list of insurance-covered medications remains debatable, even without considering religious complications. Notre Dame doesn’t hate women or even the principle of birth control, which it might not hand out but certainly permits. Notre Dame simply refuses to play the role of birth control middleman, as any Catholic university reasonably would.

I won’t defend every decision made by the University, but in this case, I must defend the administration’s policy. Let’s stop criticizing a Catholic university for upholding its belief system and start appreciating everything this university does provide.

With Notre Dame,

Alison O’Neil


Nov. 7

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Jw

    “Expecting a Catholic university to subsidize birth control requires the
    same level of naivety as walking into Brigham Young and demanding free
    Irish coffee would”

    something about these two scenarios seems different. anyway, it stems from the same core idea that healthcare is a privilege to be earned and not a right that citizens of a modern society are entitled to. Notre Dame wouldn’t need to be put in this situation if we could move behind the frankly uncatholic practice of employer based health care towards healthcare for all provided by the state. that seems like a good solution to this problem, imo

    • Casper

      Why don’t you expect free bicycle helmets while you’re at it? Because that would potentially save a lot on medical bills as well.

      • Jw

        most larger local governments already promote biking and bike safety programs to reduce congestion and fuel emissions. state provided healthcare for all will definitely help people in bicycle accidents recover without going into huge medical debt, you’re right. the current healthcare system is a huge burden for bike riders

        • Casper

          Don’t you see the similarity to artificial birth control though?

          • Jw

            no, it was a bad analogy

          • Casper

            Oh well, it’s “protection” used for a recreational activity. If you don’t use the “protection”, you may have high medical costs at a later date…

          • Jw

            i don’t think you’re making the point you’re trying to make here

  • Mary Shiraef

    I’m pretty appalled out how far off the Observer has been on its coverage of this issue. No woman I know affected by ND’s stance on this issue who I know made the case that “Notre Dame owes me birth control”. A quick look at the legal complexity of this issue easily illustrates that this is not what women at Notre Dame were asking. They were asking that Notre Dame not interfere with 3rd party issuers of birth control. This is in compliance with federal law.
    The crux of the issue is that policies such as these – as well as misunderstandings of them, such as this – can effectively restrict access to birth control for both preventing pregnancy and serious health issues. I’m not worried about Notre Dame paying for my birth control; as a woman who relies on it, I’m worried about them actively restricting my constitutional right and other women’s rights to access it. Doing so is unnecessarily heavy-handed on their students who don’t hold the same beliefs about birth control as the Catholic church; it would appear ND agrees with us somewhat and thus has taken a step back yesterday. I hope the Observer catches up in covering the crux of this issue adequately.

  • RandallPoopenmeyer

    Women are treated so horribly in the bible and have been treated horribly by the church in the past, it is hard to believe that doesn’t translate to the rules that the church wants to adhere to.

  • Annette Magjuka

    Yes, there is much more that needs to be said, and the fact that Catholics everywhere are NOT talking about sexuality and intimacy versus “hook up” culture is at the heart of the matter. Catholics are called to a reverence for life from conception to death. The lifespan provides many morally complex situations where one’s conscience must come to bear. That is why learning the Catholic doctrine is the first step, not the last. The faith is not and should never be a list of “thou shall nots,” reducing individual responsibility to a simple minded following of RULES. Some right wing zealots keep insisting that some Catholics are “not Catholic.” The do not understand the faith. If you are baptized, you are Catholic. If you engage in lifelong daily conscience formation, you will strive for goodness and integrity. When you are an adult, priests and religious should accompany you and provide insight to the faith. But ultimately, it is the individual who must make choices and bear the consequences. The list of sins is important, but not exhaustive. It is a starting point, not THE ONE AND ONLY ANSWER in every situation. To act as if it is the law, zero tolerance, and cut and dried is to deny the full humanity each of us embodies. I once read about a priest who put on his tombstone, “I tried to treat them like adults.” Would that more religious and right wing zealots understand this profound statement, everything would be so much better. And so much more Catholic.