Notre Dame and 73 other institutions secretly conspired with the Trump administration to deny birth control

When Obamacare came into effect, Notre Dame and other religious institutions forced the administration into a baroque arrangement whereby the US government would insure birth control prescriptions for women otherwise covered by the institution, so that the institution could hew to a religious doctrine that abhors the idea of women controlling their own fertility.

The arrangement was semi-stable, barring some wobbles when Trump began to erode the Affordable Care Act, but then Notre Dame — and 73 other institutions — secretly entered into an arrangement with Notre Dame to deny women coverage for their birth control.

Notre Dame pitches itself to students and faculty as an “inclusive” institution and many women who attend and work there made that choice on the basis of their understanding that their health and fertility would not be trumped by religious bigotry and superstition.

They were wrong.

Michelle Banker, a lawyer with the National Women’s Law Center, said a clue was found in Jenkins’s February statement. In announcing the change, Jenkins mentioned in passing that the university’s long-standing legal challenge to the mandate had been “settled favorably.” Considering that the Trump rules had been blocked and negotiations over a new workaround had broken down, Banker wanted to know exactly what that meant. The NWLC filed a Freedom of Information Act request and received a copy of a 10-page settlement between several federal agencies and 74 religiously affiliated institutions, negotiated by the Department of Justice and signed on October 13, 2017.

The settlement adopted language from the Trump rules — claiming that the contraceptive mandate impinged on the organizations’ religious freedoms and promising that they would never have to comply with it, at present or in the future. “We were really surprised,” Banker said. “And we were frustrated.”

Not only did the settlement violate current court orders blocking Trump’s rules, but it also thumbed its nose at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 order that a solution be found that included full contraceptive coverage. “And that’s not what has happened,” Banker said. “The Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit was designed to ensure that women could use the birth control method that works best for them, and that is a personal decision, and no university boss should be able to make that decision for anyone.”

Notre Dame Struck a Secret Deal With the Trump Administration to Deny Birth Control Coverage. Now Students Are Fighting Back. [Jordan Smith/The Intercept]

(Image: Sarahmirk, CC-BY-SA)