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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A top U.S. Catholic university is surrendering to the demands of birth control activists.
In an about-face, the University of Notre Dame has announced it will allow employees to access free abortifacients and contraceptives under a plan funded and administered independently of the school.
The move reverses last week's decision to drop coverage in 2018 — a pledge that prompted an activist backlash against the university, with three students joining a lawsuit challenging the new policy.
The decision to drop coverage came after the Trump administration broadened religious exemptions to the Obamacare contraceptive mandate.
According to a Notre Dame spokesman, university administrators had assumed the school's third-party insurers would discontinue free contraceptive coverage after 2017.
But on Tuesday, the Office of Human Resources sent staff an email announcing insurers Meritain Health and OptumRx had confirmed they would continue to cover contraceptives at no cost.
Students were notified in a separate University Health Services email that Aetna Student Health will likely "follow the same course" once plan changes are finalized next spring.
In their message to staff, administrators pledged fidelity to Church teaching but ultimately deferred the individual consciences of their employees:
The University of Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, follows Catholic teaching about the use of contraceptives and engages 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.
In 2013, Notre Dame became a party to a suit to block the contraceptive mandate. That year, free birth control coverage was extended to staff and students under a compromise, allowing religious objectors to opt out of paying directly for coverage. Under the agreement, the cost was shared by the federal government and the third-party insurer.
University President Fr. John Jenkins applauded the federal government's decision to broaden exemptions from the Obamacare mandate, declaring that "critical issues of religious freedom were at stake."