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viewpoint

Open letter to Fr. John Jenkins

| Thursday, January 18, 2018

To the Notre Dame community and the national pro-life movement:

Late last semester, the University of Notre Dame decided to continue its involvement in the distribution of abortifacients and contraceptives through the University’s health insurance plan, after there was no longer any legal necessity to do so. With the March for Life approaching, we, the Executive Board of the Notre Dame Chapter of University Faculty for Life (UFL), want to make clear that there are many Notre Dame faculty, staff and students who oppose these policies that facilitate the destruction of human life, and who are committed to the holistic teachings of the Church on the sanctity of all human life.

Therefore, below we make public a letter we delivered to Fr. Jenkins on Nov. 29, 2017 regarding the Notre Dame health insurance plan. Some of us met with Fr. Jenkins in December, and he listened respectfully to our concerns as well as the concerns of other faculty and staff present at the meeting. However, the problematic policies have not yet been corrected. We hope and pray that Fr. Jenkins and the Notre Dame Board of Trustees will soon restore life-affirming policies that are consistent with the Catholic mission of Notre Dame.

Sincerely,

Executive Board

ND Chapter of UFL

 

Nov. 29, 2017

Dear Fr. Jenkins,

We write as the Executive Board of the Notre Dame Chapter of University Faculty for Life to seek clarification about several issues related to contraceptive coverage and Flexible Spending Accounts recently announced by the University.

As we related in our letter to you on Oct. 24, we were elated that Notre Dame was eligible for an exemption from the HHS mandate and that it could end its connection with the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients. It came as a great shock to receive notice on Nov. 7 that Notre Dame employees would still have free access to these services, which are contrary to the Catholic Church’s understanding of human flourishing. What is more, University communications have left much unsaid and caused manifest confusion about the changes that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

We would like to meet with you to discuss these developments and to get clarification. The following are among the issues we would like to discuss:

  • The University asserted in court that “Notre Dame believes its participation in the U.S. Government Mandate would cause scandal and therefore Notre Dame cannot comply with the Mandate consistent with its religious beliefs.” Does the new arrangement with Meritain/OptumRx differ from the old arrangement? Are there features of the new arrangement that mitigate or eliminate the scandal caused by the old arrangement?
  • Based on phone calls with OptumRx, our understanding is that daughters of all ages are automatically enrolled in the contraceptive and abortifacient coverage, and that parents cannot close the accounts. Moreover, our understanding is that, once the girl turns 13, her parents cannot view her contraceptives account unless she grants them permission. Are these details true? (Update: After writing this letter, we were able to confirm that these details are true.)
  • In court filings, the University made several statements about the need to “avoid facilitation or affiliation with objectionable products” particularly because of “its mission as an educator of youth.” Are you concerned that the University’s witness to students is damaged by its decision to now voluntarily affiliate itself with objectionable products –– not only the University’s witness in regard to sexual morality, but also in regard to truthfulness and integrity?
  • In court filings, the University asserted that the insurance coverage required under the Mandate included “abortion-inducing products.” However, University statements about the new coverage do not mention abortion-inducing products. Have abortion-inducing products been removed from the new coverage? (Update: After writing this letter, we were able to confirm that abortion-inducing products are included in the coverage. The products covered are the same as those required under the HHS mandate.)
  • What entities are bearing the costs of the new coverage? Why would Meritain and OptumRx “advise that they will now continue to provide contraceptives to plan members at no charge,” as the University stated in a Nov. 7 askHR email? Meritain and OptumRX are two distinct companies. Is it a coincidence that, without any University prompting, both companies advised that they would continue covering contraceptives just days after the University announced that the coverage would not continue?
  • Will this year’s rule change for Flexible Spending Accounts allow Notre Dame employees to be reimbursed for sterilizations (male or female), abortifacients or contraceptives? Why was the wording in the plan document changed from that of prior years?

Please let us know whether it is possible to meet with you about these very important matters. If a meeting is not possible, we would appreciate written responses.

Yours in Notre Dame,

Executive Board

ND Chapter of UFL

Martijn Cremers

president

Jeffrey Burks

vice president

Madeline Bradley

secretary-treasurer

Gabriel Reynolds

executive board member

David Solomon

executive board member

Jan. 16

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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