ND President Accused of Hypocrisy for Attending March for Life

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by Alexander Slavsky  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 18, 2018   

Fr. John Jenkins has approved birth control coverage in school health plan

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (ChurchMilitant.com) - University of Notre Dame alumni are charging the president with hypocrisy for leading the student delegation at March for Life weeks after the Catholic school started offering contraception coverage to staff, reversing its previous position. 

On Thursday, the executive board of University Faculty for Life, made up of faculty, administration and staff who respect life from conception to natural death, wrote a letter to President Fr. John Jenkins in the student newspaper, The Observer, expressing opposition to Notre Dame's decision to "continue its involvement in the distribution of abortifacients and contraceptives through the University's health insurance plan, after there was no longer any legal necessity to do so."

The group also reaffirmed its commitment to "the holistic teachings of the Church on the sanctity of all human life" a day before faculty, staff and students took part in the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

 
The Sycamore Trust, a group of alumni and friends striving to protect the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, released a letter on Wednesday recounting the decision by Fr. Jenkins to "make cut-rate abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization available to employees through its Flexible Spending Account program," while announcing "his plans to lead a Notre Dame delegation to this year's March for Life." 
 
In a Tuesday news release, the university announced that "Notre Dame's 2018 March for Life contingent is the largest in recorded memory and will include ... Father Jenkins ... presid[ing] at a Mass for the Notre Dame marchers at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Agnes Catholic Church" in Arlington, Virginia. 
 
The Sycamore Trust called out the hypocrisy and scandal of Fr. Jenkins' decision to fund birth control and abortions while presiding at Mass for March for Life pilgrims.
 
"The hypocrisy and scandal are evident — his action seems to imply that the use of abortifacients and contraceptives is acceptable, whatever reservations the University might set to paper— and will surely not go unmarked." 
 
The hypocrisy and scandal are evident.
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 to violate its beliefs by providing contraception coverage to staff. 
 
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 were made available in the health plans on January 1.  
 
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. 

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. 

However, the Sycamore Trust reported that Notre Dame's response to the mandate began with a misrepresentation to the courts, according to a letter released to Fr. Jenkins from alumni attorneys in December.  

After settling the lawsuit against the federal government, Notre Dame shifted responsibility for free abortifacients and contraceptives toward its insurers, Meritain Health and OptumRx, who provide and distribute them while the university sponsors them. The Catholic college also claimed that the misrepresentation was the result of "communication" issues.

Paul Browne, Notre Dame's vice president for communications, insisted that the school "believed that the insurance companies would discontinue no-cost coverage for contraceptives for employees at the end of the year." He then remarked, "Since then, we have been informed that Meritain Health/OptumRx will continue such coverage indefinitely." 

Notre Dame's decision leaves the school continuing its "accommodation" program despite Trump's revision of the mandate and the university's lawsuit settlement. The letter released Wednesday mentioned that accommodation means that "Meritain/Optum are obliged to furnish free abortifacient/contraceptive coverage to employees, but they're compensated by the government."

This means that Notre Dame, the sponsor of the student health insurance plans, is indirectly funding access to birth control and abortion. 

The Sycamore Trust ended the letter expressing hope that Fr. Jenkins' actions at the March will "inspire him to change his mind" while declaring that they will "look to the Fellows and Trustees of the University to reverse this execrable action, so hostile to human life and so damaging to Notre Dame's claim to be a Catholic university." 
 

 

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