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University announces change in contraceptives policy

| Thursday, February 8, 2018

In a letter emailed to University employees Wednesday, University President Fr. John Jenkins announced further changes to the policies regarding access to contraceptives via University health insurance plans to take place within the year.

“I write to announce steps based on Catholic principles that nevertheless provide access to some of the coverage that members of our community seek,” Jenkins said in the e-mail.

The new system will involve abandoning a third party, government-funded plan used by the school to provide contraception as dictated by a federal regulation, as this plan covers abortifacients.

However, so as not to “burden” those who use contraception but rely on the University for health insurance, the school will cover some contraceptives in its insurance policies. The change follows a court ruling exempting Notre Dame from the aforementioned regulation.

“I have reached the conclusion that it is best that the University stop the government-funded provision of the range of drugs and services through our third party administrator,” Jenkins said. “Instead, the University will provide coverage in the University’s own insurance plans for simple contraceptives (i.e., drugs designed to prevent conception) … The University’s insurance plans (as opposed to the government-funded program) have never covered, and will not cover, abortion-inducing drugs.”

University plans will also pay for “natural family planning options,” the letter said. To further keep in line with the Church’s teaching, the University will not cover “sterilization procedures for the purpose of preventing conception.” Community members who sign up for health benefits through the University will receive a statement on Catholicism’s teachings regarding contraception.

The policy change for employees will be implemented July 1, 2018 for employees and in August 2018 for students.

Jenkins explained that in recent years the University had joined a lawsuit against a Federal mandate requiring the school to provide various “contraceptive drugs and services.” The mandate differed from previous regulations in that it did not exempt certain religious institutions, namely universities and hospitals. Jenkins said the school joined the suit to protect its identity and values.

“The University of Notre Dame joined other plaintiffs in challenging this mandate to protect its ability to act in accord with its religious mission,” Jenkins said.

After a lengthy legal battle in which a court initially ruled against the school, the suit was resolved “favorably” for the University in October 2017, Jenkins said. In the time period between the two rulings, the school had provided the contraceptive services in question through the government funded program. Jenkins initially proposed continuing this arrangement

“When I delivered my Faculty Address in November, I thought it best, having established our right to decide, to allow the government-funded provision of these drugs and services to continue so that our employees could have access without University funding or immediate and direct involvement in their provision,” Jenkins said.

However, Jenkins noted that abortifacients covered by the plan are “gravely objectionable” from the perspective of Catholic social teaching.

This consideration ultimately led him to reconsider his earlier decision

He acknowledged that health care coverage is a thorny issue for a Catholic University with 17,000 people, including employees, students, and family members of the two groups, rely on the University for health insurance, according to the letter. Balancing consideration for non-Catholic community members with the University’s Catholic mission is difficult, Jenkins said.

“That tension is particularly pronounced in the area of health care, where the University recognizes its responsibility, grounded in its Catholic mission, to provide health insurance to employees, their families and many students, and most of those covered have no financially feasible alternative but to rely on the University for such coverage,” he said.

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