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ND lawsuit offends gender equity

Kathryn Pogin | Monday, September 3, 2012

Recently, my colleagues and I drafted a petition against the University’s lawsuit over the Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring no-cost birth control coverage. I would like to discuss more fully one point our petition addresses: Regardless of whether or not contraceptives themselves promote gender equity, pursuing this suit is an affront to gender equity at Notre Dame.

On account of serious deficiencies in campus services and support, the very families that are the likely and welcome outcome of University policy will find themselves unable to afford University-sponsored healthcare, without access to affordable childcare, and quite possibly hindered in their own academic careers. These issues have a systematically disproportionate effect on women. These are also matters of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, yet the University does not address them. This is disconcerting.

Further, the University already provides access to medications that treat erectile dysfunction, without requiring the insured to justify their use of it (medically or morally), even though it requires women to justify contraceptive use. If students or employees are unmarried, providing access to such medications is also materially contributing to gravely immoral behavior, according to Catholic teaching. If the University can provide access to medications that treat erectile dysfunction without question, because it trusts that men will use it wisely, why not treat women likewise when it comes to contraceptives? The University’s policies do not treat men and women as equally capable and trustworthy moral agents, and the University is going to court to defend that disparity.

While it is not clear to us that compliance with the mandate would violate Catholic conscience, it is clear that gender inequity is wrong both legally and morally. ‘Dignitatis Humanae,’ the Vatican’s 1965 declaration of religious freedom, says: “[G]overnment is to see to it that equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common good, is never violated, whether openly or covertly, for religious reasons. Nor is there to be discrimination among citizens.”

Truly living out the University’s mission and Catholic identity requires creating more equitable University policies and a more family-friendly environment.

Kathryn Pogin
graduate student
Sept. 2