Eyes on USF after Notre Dame Drops Contraceptive Coverage

Editor’s note: The day after this article’s publication, Notre Dame announced they would reverse their decision to end contraceptive coverage. 


The University of Notre Dame announced on Oct. 27 it would no longer provide birth control to its students, faculty and staff under its health care coverage. This set a precedent for other Catholic universities, like our own, to do the same. Notre Dame’s actions were possible because of new exemptions in the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which required that female contraceptives be provided without patient co-payment. The exemption was put forth by the Departments of Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services.


The exemption allows institutions of higher education to opt out of providing contraceptives if they object based on religious beliefs. Since Notre Dame is a private, Catholic university, it qualifies for this exemption. “The loss of coverage will not affect students until Aug. 2018, but staff and faculty will lose it at the end of the year,” according to an article from Indiana Public Media.


While USF and Notre Dame are both private Catholic universities, an important distinction is that USF follows the Jesuit tradition, while Notre Dame does not. “What’s going on at Notre Dame isn’t causing us to anticipate any changes,” said Provost Don Heller. “We’re constantly reviewing our benefit programs to make sure we can do what’s best to provide for our community in alignment with our Jesuit values. But at this time, we’re not looking at this issue.”


Both schools use Aetna, but the difference is how they’re implementing coverage. According to Aetna’s student health care plan and design summary, “FDA-Approved Female Generic Over-the-Counter Contraceptives” are completely covered by the student insurance. This is regardless of its use, whether it be to prevent pregnancy or for other medical conditions.


Although USF has no plans to change its birth control coverage via its health care plan, students reacted strongly to the possibility. “That’s really unfair to female students [who comprise] 70 percent of the student body,” said senior Ali Buck, who uses birth control, but has private insurance. “It seems completely unreasonable that we wouldn’t have access to something that not only protects girls and women from getting pregnant, but also provides a lot of other benefits like hormone regulation, helping to reduce acne and helping to control appetite. There just so many benefits to birth control other than the sexual nature of it.”


Notre Dame’s loss of contraceptive coverage has received nationwide media coverage, largely because Notre Dame is the first university to utilize the new exemption. “It certainly has been a controversial topic that’s happened in the past week and a half,” said Julio Salazar, a senior at Notre Dame. “People on campus are really mad about it, especially females, as you can imagine. But also people who are adamant that it’s the right step for the university, because it’s a university that holds Catholicism as very dear, and the Catholic church disavows contraception outside of the family planning setting.”


However, other students disagreed. “I was involved in a protest against the Trump announcement [about the new exemptions] and Father Jenkin’s [President of Notre Dame] statement, which took place after all of this happened,” said Anne Jarrett, a sophomore at Notre Dame. “The overwhelming message that we wanted to share with the world was that we didn’t want to make this a gendered issue, because a lot of people use birth control. Also that the Catholic church doesn’t condone sex before marriage, but the university and my employer have no right to interfere with or know what I do with my body.”


Reporting was contributed by Ali DeFazio.


Featured Photo: The University of Notre Dame recently announced it would stop covering birth control under its university health care provider, Aetna. This brought up the question of whether USF would follow suit. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY HURSH KARKHANIS/FOGHORN


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