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ND needs to reconsider lawsuit

Benjamin Cohen Rossi | Monday, August 27, 2012

Earlier this year, the University of Notre Dame, along with 42 other Catholic-affiliated institutions, filed 12 lawsuits against the Department of Health and Human Services, claiming the mandate that these institutions provide contraceptive coverage violated their First Amendment rights.

In response, my colleagues and I drafted and circulated a petition calling for the University to drop its legal complaint. We argued it is unclear whether providing contraceptives would violate the institution’s Catholic conscience, given a well-known principle in Catholic moral philosophy known as the Doctrine of Double Effect. Even if it did, the University, by refusing to pay for contraceptives, would be imposing an unreasonable burden on the consciences and resources of its non-Catholic employees and those Catholic employees who do not agree with the administration’s point of view. Our purpose, above all, was to publicly demonstrate that many students, faculty and alumni are not behind the University on this issue.

Since mid-summer we have collected some 170 signatures, and are still accepting more. President Jenkins responded to our complaints with a kindly-worded letter reminding us that Notre Dame does not seek to deprive its employees of access to contraceptives. He did not, however, directly address our arguments. At this point, we wish to once again lay out our points.

We still believe that it is unclear whether providing contraception as part of a health insurance plan violates Catholic conscience or the right to free exercise. The Doctrine of Double Effect justifies an action whose foreseen consequences may be non-intrinsically evil if the act is intended to promote some sufficiently great good. We believe that providing health care is such a good. Also, the Catholic Church is strongly committed to every human being’s right to private conscience, but the university apparently does not see that there is a legitimate claim on the part of non-Catholic employees that they should not be subject to Catholic conscience. We hope by pressing the University on these claims we can encourage discussion.

But there is another important issue here: the apparent inconsistency between the University’s pro-family stance, which it is going to court to defend, and its inadequate provisions for graduate students with children. Many, if not all, graduate students at Notre Dame with children insure them through the state of Indiana because they can’t afford the university-provided healthcare. The University’s childcare services on campus are only available for children aged two or older, and so are unavailable to some graduate students. Such services are unaffordable for graduate students living on university stipends.

We seek a frank, open discussion about why complying with the mandate is contrary to its conscience, and why filing a lawsuit against the federal government is a suitable means of furthering the university’s moral mission.


Benjamin Cohen Rossi
graduate student
Aug. 27