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Response to “Notre Dame doesn’t owe you birth control”

| Thursday, November 16, 2017

First, I would like to offer my support and appreciation to the University for reversing its oppressive decision to exclude birth control from employee health care plans. However, it is also necessary to address the rhetoric on campus that has encompassed the issue. Specifically, the letter to the editor entitled “Notre Dame doesn’t owe you birth control.”

The problem with the author’s claim that corporations can claim freedom of religion, as with the decision in the controversial Supreme Court case “Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.,” is that it allows the corporation’s religious views to restrict the religious liberty of the individual employee. Institutions don’t have guaranteed religious freedom, individuals do. Notre Dame’s choice to discontinue birth control in its employee health care plan (which, importantly, is paid for by employees of the University and supplied by a third-party provider) restricts individual religious liberty for the benefit of its own views as an institution, not an individual.

To compare requesting free alcohol from Brigham Young University to asking Notre Dame to cover basic employee health care is an analogy that does not prove the point. Health care is an individual right, alcohol is not. The better analogy for the author’s argument is that individual rights limit how far an institution can go in imposing its religious views; presumably the author would not argue that a university’s religious views could be the basis to deny admission based upon certain classifications. In that instance, individual rights do trump the institution’s religious views. If the author agrees, then the real issue is not free alcohol at BYU but rather the individual liberties of the University’s employees and whether the University can restrict those freedoms based on its institutional views.

As the debate tries to reconcile issues of Catholic identity with the law, it is important to acknowledge common Catholic perception of the issue. In a 2016 survey of likely Catholic voters, conducted by Belden Russonello Strategists, 79 percent agree that health insurance companies should be required to offer health care plans that include birth control. Additionally, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception at some point in their lives. Therefore, while the University’s initial decision affected women of other religious practices, it would also have substantially affected a large number of women who identify as Catholic, but may practice their personal decisions in adherence with their individual conscience, which is acceptable due to their freedom to practice religion.

Furthermore, the policy is inherently sexist, whether intentional or not, as it restricts basic health care for women, but does not do the same for men. This furthers the message that women’s private lives are not up to them and are open to public debate. Hormonal birth control is, for many women, a vital component of their individual health care routine that should not require justification in order for a prescription to be written. Yet, the University chose to restrict women’s birth control and not Viagra for men. Is Viagra not as important to sexual freedom for men as hormonal birth control is for women who choose to use it for the primary purpose of contraception? In addition, while condoms are characterized by the author as “male birth control,” they clearly are not within the same realm of health care as hormonal birth control, which requires a medical prescription and is substantially more expensive.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge in this debate that the policy is inherently elitist. Not elitist because, as the author argues, a sense of entitlement demands that “ …an institution defy its religious beliefs to support your sex life”, but rather because it fails to acknowledge that this debate is most important to those who would not be able to afford this type of health care except through the subsidized program. Ultimately the author’s argument is that if the University’s insurance plan does not cover birth control, the woman can pay for it herself. But it is those who cannot pay that are most affected by this policy.

While I recognize, and personally strongly embrace, Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, I do not believe institutional religious freedom should not come at the expense of individual liberty or women’s health. We must respect the diversity of religious and personal convictions present on our campus. Therefore, I applaud the University for continuing to provide birth control, through a third party, for its employees — employees who are the backbone and spirit of this wonderful institution, and who, without them, Notre Dame community members would not be able to engage in such an important debate.

Jackie O’Brien


Nov. 15


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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  • Annette Magjuka

    I agree with you 100%.

  • warmupthediesel

    Hey Jackie:

    Where in the United States constitution are you finding that healthcare is a right?

    Additionally, where are the free condoms being handed out? Free vasectomies? You aren’t a victim because you were born female. In fact, you’re in the majority.

    • “freeloadersocialist”


      I have found multiple issues with your response. Since I do not live in a “free-loader socialist” camp, I am going to express these concerns in accordance with the 1st amendment.

      The thing about the Constitution is that it was written from perspective of which remained behind a multitude of blockades. Two of these being:
      1) It was written in a time when healthcare held little to no priority. As, there was little to no empirical data/discoveries advancing medicine at said time. This why people could die from something as little as a cold.
      3) The concepts of “freedom” and “human rights” have greatly altered since the origin of our country. And thank God for it.

      So with that being said, lets look at the issue of “contraceptives” from a more modern and sophisticated p.o.v. First, “birth-control” is actually just medicine. Women take it for a diverse and complex reasons. All of these reasons are not owed to you, thanks to a thing called HIPPA. I will say that before taking GianviTM I had missed on average 20-21 days of school/work a year. All of these days were spent in hospitals and/or on heavy narcotics. I have had morphine drips because of my excruciating menstrual cycles. What you call “birth control” has literally saved my livelihood. Also, as a low-income student I could not afford this treatment without the support of subsidies via health care. I do not have $157 a month to spare on this. I’m sure other women are in the same predicament. And lets be clear – if you are missing 20-21 days of work/school a year, you are missing crucial productivity days. You can be fired and lose income, which perpetuates poverty cycles.

      And I’m saying all of this as a devout Catholic. In case you were wondering, the Catechism does have statements regarding the use of “birth control”, which do affirm the usage as beneficial to some women. However, even looking at it from a perspective outside of the church…it just really is not our business what medicine people use and why they use it.

      Lets talk about you vapid response to telling the author to simply transfer or find work elsewhere. As a Catholic institution, ND supports and uphold diversity of thought and belief. It makes us better and well-rounded laity. Think about when the Church shunned scientific advances and those supporting them… a lot of persecution. Thank God for 2nd Vatican Council and progressive Catholic Social Thought (am i right?). Also, not one Catholic is the same as another. We hold our own diverse point of views. If you don’t value this maybe you should move to a red country where communist thought dictates the lives of others! Places like Russia and China might be up your ally.

      Lastly, as for your comment regarding the “victimhood” of females… I really just want to say your dumb and not beat around the bush. However, lets talk through it. Sure, maybe the ratio of women to men is greater than the vice versa. This still does not counter the toxic masculinity, which has infiltrated our society. You can have more women present physically, this does not mean that ideals automatically change. The mere fact that you would call “birth control” “abortificients”, and with such judgmental conviction proves my point and case. Other examples can be picked from the sexual assault cases coming to light and the issue of gun violence. I suggest you take one GWS course before the end of you ND career. It might help in understanding the problematic culture you are supporting via this response.

      I would continue this response, however some of us “socialists” have jobs to attend to. I suggest you find a hobby or two…preferably and educational one.

      .xx. an “unoriginal” “socialist” who believes universal health care is a right !

    • Jw

      this is really getting to you

  • Ceh Dee

    This letter does a good job of identifying some of the empirical facts and concerns at play here that went undiscussed in the original letter to the editor. What I am missing is the foundation for the language of rights and the support for normative claims about healthcare and diversity. Who decides what rights an individual has? What should be included in insurance plans for medical coverage? Does diversity entail that all lifestyles desired by a multi-faceted student body should be accommodated through university policy, or only that the student body should be multi-faceted? There is also one empirical questions worth considering: does contraception help alleviate poverty and domestic abuse? And, moreover, who is asking for contraception in the first place and why?

  • Martin

    The author of this letter states, “Institutions don’t have guaranteed religious freedom, individuals do” The trouble with that statement is that institutions are administered by individuals and these people cannot be coerced by the government to cooperate with what they consider evil. That was the crux of the Hobby Lobby decision. Even if one does not agree with the Catholic viewpoint on artificial birth control, one must agree with the general principle that the government must make every effort to avoid compelling someone (either as an individual, or as one guiding a private institution) from violating his/her conscience. With all the exemptions given to others in the ACA, it would have been trivial to grant religious institutions an exemption from participating in artificial contraception. If those services were so crucial, they could have been paid through a public fund.