The University of Notre Dame has reversed its decision to drop cost-free contraception coverage through their insurance, announcing the decision in emails to faculty and students Tuesday.
The announcement comes a week after Notre Dame became the first university to publicly take advantage of a new Trump administration rule allowing institutions with “religious” or “moral” opposition to contraception to drop insurance coverage for it.
On October 27, employees and graduate students at the prominent Catholic university were told via email that that the school would no longer partake in an Obama-era federal program that provided separate coverage for "women’s health products or procedures that the University objects to based on its religious beliefs."
The program was set to halt for employees by the end of this calendar year and for students in mid-August, 2018. On Tuesday, however, the school apparently changed its mind.
"The University of Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, follows Catholic teaching about the use of contraceptives," read both emails, which sent separately to faculty and students and were provided to BuzzFeed News. "Recognizing, however, the plurality of religious and other convictions among its students, it will not interfere with the provision of contraceptives that will be administered and funded independently of the University."
The emails, which were sent to faculty Tuesday morning and students later in the day, said that both student and faculty insurance companies intend to continue offering coverage for birth control with no co-pay and that university would not intervene.
The student insurance plan, however, will not be completely finalized until late spring.
Graduate students had pushed back on the university's initial decision announced late last month. They quickly created a petition contesting the university’s decision and requesting that the coverage continue for both students and employees. By Tuesday, the petition had been signed by more than 500 people. Faculty, staff and students also staged a protest after the university's president, John Jenkins, released a statement commending the Trump administration’s decision to allow businesses and schools to drop contraception coverage.
The group that organized the petition and protests told BuzzFeed News in a statement that they were “grateful and relieved that we were able to help push the administration to respect the Notre Dame community members’ right to reproductive healthcare," but that they would continue monitor "the administration’s actions and words, since this issue deeply affects the lives of our members, colleagues, friends, and students.”
Notre Dame did not respond to questions about whether the petition and protests affected their position.
Notre Dames’ reversal was unexpected. In 2013, Notre Dame sued the Obama administration over Obamacare’s contraception mandate, which required all institutions and employers to provide contraception coverage to their students and employees, or to arrange for their insurance companies to provide government-funded coverage separately for them.
In both the emails to faculty and students, Notre Dame brought up this lawsuit, saying that its intention was to protect the school's "freedom to act in accord with its principles." The school said in the email that they recently settled this case, yet chose to continue participating in the federal program that provides contraception coverage for their employees and students.
Two Notre Dame students already have a pending lawsuit against the Trump administration over the new rules, filed on behalf of them and the international nonprofit Medical Students for Choice by a clinic at Yale Law School. This is one of several lawsuits filed by state attorneys general and advocacy groups since the rules were released.
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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