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HHS: ND insurance must include contraception

Sarah Mervosh | Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Friday that religious affiliated institutions, such as Notre Dame, will not be exempt from a new law that requires employers to provide contraceptive services as part of their minimum health insurance packages.

The decision comes after an interim ruling in August, following which University President Fr. John Jenkins wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking that Notre Dame be exempt from the requirement on the basis that it violates the University’s conscience clause. 

Jenkins’ request was not granted, and under the new law, Notre Dame will be required to cover the full range of recommended women’s preventative services, including all FDA approved forms of birth control, in its health insurance package.

However, in a concession, Sebelius said religious affiliated non-profits will have an additional year — until August 2013 — to comply with the law.

“I am deeply disappointed in a decision by the administration that will place many religious organizations of all faiths in an untenable position,” Jenkins said in a statement. “This unnecessary intervention by the government into religion disregards our nation’s commitment to the rights of conscience and the longstanding work of religious groups to help build a more compassionate society and vibrant democracy.”

The new law will likely force Notre Dame to choose between its social and moral teachings. In Jenkins’ letter to Sebelius, which he sent in September, he described the “impossible” position the law would create for the University.

“This would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the Church’s moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the Church’s social teaching,” he wrote.

University Spokesman Dennis Brown said the University has not made a decision on how it will move forward in terms of complying with the law.

“We’re going to evaluate,” Brown said. “We’re going to review our options.”

If Notre Dame continues to provide health insurance but does not comply with the law when it takes effect in August 2013, the University would be fined $100 a day per person per infraction, law professor Carter Snead told The Observer in September.

The University’s current health insurance plan does not cover oral contraceptives or contraceptive devices unless a physician requests them based on medical needs or for purposes other than contraception, according to its 2011 Medical, Dental and Vision Plan.

The new law will not require Notre Dame to provide contraceptives on campus as part of its health services at Saint Liam Hall.

Sebelius said the decision came after careful consideration.

“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” she said in a press release. “The [Obama] administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with faith-based organizations, which promote healthy communities and serve the common good.”

Jenkins said the University will strive for national dialogue on the issue.

“We call for a national dialogue among religious groups, government and the American people to reaffirm our country’s historic respect for freedom of conscience and defense of religious liberty,” he said.