Notre Dame Alumni Issue Open Letter to President Objecting to Contraception Reversal

by Alexander Slavsky  •  •  December 19, 2017   

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. ( - University of Notre Dame alumni are responding to the university's decision to reverse itself and provide contraception coverage to staff.

On Saturday, the Sycamore Trust, a group of alumni and friends striving to protect the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, released an open letter to Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. Church Militant spoke with the president of the group, William Dempsey, who commented, "When Father Jenkins announced that Notre Dame would voluntarily do precisely what it had sued to prevent, alleging it would be complicit in grave moral evil, the facts screamed 'pretend lawsuit.'"

In the letter, Dempsey and others expressed their concerns:

This is a serious matter, and we do not believe it should simply be allowed to pass. If there is an explanation, it should be given. If there is not, appropriate action should be taken to prevent a recurrence and to restore the university's reputation with the courts and the public. If a judicial inquiry is appropriate, it should be held.

The court battle over the HHS Contraceptive Mandate involved claims that compliance with the mandate required Notre Dame to act against its conscience as a Catholic institution and violate its beliefs by providing contraception coverage to staff.
"The representations to the courts that now appear to have been false were forceful, multiple, and essential," the alumni stated in their letter to Jenkins. "They were designed to show in the strongest possible language that the mandate imposed a substantial burden on Notre Dame's religious liberty. Unless it did, Notre Dame had no business in court."
In October, President Trump broadened exemptions to the mandate so that religious organizations and Catholic schools like Notre Dame are now exempt from covering abortifacients and contraceptives in their health plans.
The university settled its lawsuit against the federal government, since it was no longer required to cover birth control. Contraceptives and abortifacients were to be available free of charge in the university's student and staff health plans, Meritain Health and OptumRx, until January 1.
But Notre Dame reversed its decision after three Notre Dame students filed a federal lawsuit challenging the school's decision to roll back birth control coverage. Contraceptives and abortifacients will now be available in the health plans in 2018.
Notre Dame reversed its decision after three Notre Dame students filed a federal lawsuit challenging the school's decision to roll back birth control coverage.
In an update to faculty and staff, Notre Dame reaffirmed its commitment to Catholic teaching while giving in to the mandate provisions in the school medical plans:

The University of Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, follows Catholic teaching about the use of contraceptives and engaged in the recent lawsuit to protect its freedom to act in accord with its principles. Recognizing, however, the plurality of religious and other convictions among its employees, it will not interfere with the provision of contraceptives that will be administered and funded independently of the University.

Previously, the Catholic college was complying with the HHS mandate under an "accommodation," which allowed for staff and students as part of the university health plans to be provided free contraceptives and abortifacients.

Dempsey mentioned that attorneys are hoping for the university to reverse its action unless Fr. Jenkins "thinks his action in continuing the provision of abortifacients and contraceptives to students and employees can be reconciled with the University's sworn representations to the courts."
If Fr. Jenkins and the university are unable to provide an explanation, which Dempsey thinks is certain, then the university should rescind the decision "in order to rescue the university from the charge of serious and multiple misrepresentations to the courts."

Dempsey claims that Notre Dame was not legally bound to include free contraceptives and abortifacients in its health plans.

"Bear in mind that the fiction that the Notre Dame spokespersons are peddling — that this is at the instance of Notre Dame's health plan contractors who really want to spend their money providing free contraceptives and abortifacients — is just that, a fiction," Dempsey told Church Militant. "In fact, Notre Dame is the moving party here. It is continuing voluntarily to operate under the so-called 'accommodation' that it had sued to be freed from, and under the 'accommodation' its contractors are required by law to provide this coverage."

"Notre Dame now, not the government, lays that obligation on its insurers and plan administrator," Dempsey added.

The alumni ended the letter requesting an explanation from Notre Dame: "We seek an exculpatory explanation or, failing that, remedial action to restore a proper relationship between Notre Dame and the courts."


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