Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why Notre Dame’s Lawsuit Ought to Fail

This piece was written by Notre Dame junior Emily Flores and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

The University of Notre Dame has filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for a rehearing of its plea for injunction against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, which requires that employers’ health insurance plans include full coverage of twenty FDA-approved and non-abortifacient types of contraception.

 Notre Dame has been allowed an out by signing a form stating that contraception is against its religious beliefs, which would then leave the coverage of contraception up to a middleman – a third party insurer. This would mean that Notre Dame would not spend a dime on contraception, but employees would still have it covered.

Notre Dame still feels that maintaining “a contractual relationship with insurance companies and third party administrators that will provide abortifacients, contraceptives, sterilization, and related counseling to individuals enrolled in Notre Dame’s health plans” is not an action that Notre Dame can take without violating its religious beliefs.

Notre Dame is continuing this fight despite its harmful effects on our university, the dangerous precedent that would be established in a victory, and the fact that most Catholic women have used birth control because we live in an age where it is no longer preposterous that a woman should choose to limit the number of children she has, or to be educated and financially prepared before she conceives.

The Affordable Care Act does provide an exemption for religious employers if their organization is one “that: (1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit [religious organization].” While Notre Dame is a religious institution, it does not qualify for an exemption because it does not primarily employ and serve Catholics.

Some have argued that ACA should be amended so that a wider range of religiously affiliated organizations are exempt, but I do not think the exempt group should be widened so that employers are permitted to impose their religious beliefs on their employees who do not share them.

Someone applying for a job at a church is much more cognizant of its religious affiliation than someone who applies for a job at a religious university, such as Notre Dame. The guy mopping the floor in DeBartolo and the woman working the dishline at South did not apply for their jobs because the university’s Catholic mission inspired them. They applied because they wanted a job with money and health benefits.

Even if the rumor amongst the student body that all ND employees are paid a living wage by our upstanding Catholic university were true (it’s not), these employees could not easily afford to cover the costs of birth control to treat health problems such as endometriosis or to ensure that they do not have more children than they can afford.

It is a little known fact that Notre Dame’s insurance plan did provide contraception in cases of medical need unrelated to pregnancy prevention. However, obtaining it involved employees having to jump through a lot of hoops to show it was for medical use and not for sex. This not only delays the woman’s access to treatment, but also violates ethical boundaries in forcing her to report to her employer her sexual inactivity in order to validate her needs.

People who think that all religiously affiliated organizations should be exempt from providing health care based on religious objections should stop and think about the repercussions of such an allowance. If we allow religious exemptions for health care, religious employers could avoid having to cover vaccinations, blood transfusions, medical care for homosexual spouses, or pork-based medications. Before you say, “Those are legitimate health needs, but no one needs to have sex,” educate yourself on the wide variety of uses for birth control.

Here’s a wild idea: converse with a female student, who no doubt has celibate friends on birth control. Birth control is often used for treatment of ovarian cysts, endometriosis, acne, dangerously heavy periods, irregular hormones, and PMS. This last point alone should be enough to get every boyfriend, husband, brother, and resident of an all-female dorm on my side.

In some cases, a woman’s health issue can lead to infertility if untreated, and the birth control used to treat it can be quite expensive. Some brands of birth control can cost $90 per month, and many women’s bodies do not react well to generic brands.

A birth control shot can be around $400, and an IUD, the most effective and long-lasting form of contraception, can cost $1,000. Furthermore, if all religiously affiliated organizations can be exempt from following a health care law, it would follow that they can be exempt from following all sorts of other laws, such as child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, and paying taxes that will inevitably fund capital punishment and war.  

 Finally, Notre Dame students are injured by this lawsuit. On a campus that sometimes feels as though women were admitted 2 years ago instead of 42 years ago, ND women now feel even more marginalized following the intense discussion about contraception.

I have had students explain to me that they are on birth control – usually even purely for health reasons – but do not want people to find out because of the assumptions people might make and the stigma surrounding it.

Aside from the psychological affects on female students, our university is held back from further greatness by pursuing lawsuits such as this. Instead of maintaining our reputation of “a high-ranking research university,” or “the Catholic school with stellar athletics,” we are now “that school that sued Obama over birth control.” I’d rather go back to being “the school where people make up their girlfriends to win a Heisman.”

Professors already need persuading to move their families to South Bend and teach here, but this is especially true of minorities, women, and non-Catholics. If you were a leading scholar in your field, and happened to be a atheist, black female, would you choose the Catholic school in South Bend where you would have little in common with your colleagues, and wouldn’t be able to have your health needs taken care of, or would you take that offer at Cornell?

Notre Dame talks like we want to compete with the top schools in the nation, but national fights over outdated beliefs will only hold us back.

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