This is a guest-post from Kathryn Pogin, a graduate student at UND involved in resisting UND's stance on the healthcare law. (ML)
Earlier this year, the University of Notre Dame filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services, claiming the HHS mandate requiring Notre Dame to provide employees with insurance coverage for contraception violated the university’s First Amendment rights. In response, Benjamin Rossi and I drafted and circulated a petition opposing Notre Dame’s lawsuit; our concerns are multiple. It is not clear to us that complying with the mandate is actually contrary to Catholic conscience. Further, regardless of whether or not complying with the mandate would violate Catholic conscience we believe there are good reasons (moral and legal) the university ought to comply anyhow. Pursuing the suit is an affront to gender equity, and the university’s proposed solution only shifts any burden on freedom of religion from the university to the tax-payers.
The purported problem with the university providing wider access to contraceptives is that women will ultimately use it for morally illicit reasons, contrary to Church teaching, and aiding them to that end violates the university’s Catholic conscience. However, Notre Dame already provides access to medications that treat erectile dysfunction, without requiring the insured provide evidence of marital status (in fact, men need not even provide documentation of a medical need). If students or employees are unmarried, providing access to such medications is also aiding the insured in gravely immoral behavior according to Catholic teaching—and further, at least according to university practice, this has not interfered with the ability of the university to live out its Catholic mission to date. If the university can provide access to medications that treat erectile dysfunction because it trusts the decision to use it wisely to the individual consciences of insured men, why not trust women when it comes to contraceptives? Fundamentally, university’s policies do not treat men and women as equally capable and trustworthy moral agents, and the university is going to court to defend that disparity.
Further, while the university claims to be pursing this lawsuit in order to protect the Catholic identity of the university, it simultaneously fails to live out its Catholic mission by not supporting the families in our community. This has a systematically disproportionate effect on women. On account of serious deficiencies in campus services and support, families - the very same families that are the likely and welcome outcome of Notre Dame’s policy - will find themselves unable to afford university-sponsored healthcare, without access to affordable childcare, and quite likely hindered in their own academic careers. These are also matters of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, yet despite these being long-held and well-known matters of concern, the university has consistently failed to adequately address them. All graduate student parents I know insure their children through the state of Indiana because they simply cannot afford the university plan (most of us struggle to afford our own insurance premiums, never mind a dependent’s). International students, as non-citizens, don’t have even that as an option. This represents a morally inappropriate ordering of priorities. The consequent equity issues are real and serious.
As we noted in our petition, granting an exemption to Notre Dame would effectively impose one, contested, interpretation of Catholic sexual morality—a morality that most Americans, including most U.S. Catholics themselves, do not share—on students and employees. Contraceptives are not as widely accessible as Notre Dame would like us to think. If a woman, for medical reasons, needs a particular kind of contraceptive, filling her prescription can cost upwards of $60 per month, not to mention the cost of related medical exams. For many students and employees these costs are burdensome. As the largest employers in the area are Catholic institutions (and the job market here is dismal), many employees effectively do not have the option of working elsewhere. In its legal complaint, Notre Dame suggested that the federal government could provide contraceptive access directly to the university’s employees and students. Presumably, though, some tax-payers have just the same objections to aiding contraceptive-access as the university does.
While it is clear that certain kinds of contraceptive use are contrary to Catholic teaching, the university is merely being asked to provide access by way of health insurance (something several Catholic institutions already do). In our petition, we questioned whether the doctrine of double effect should apply to this case, but of course, there’s the principle of material cooperation to consider as well. We have no illusions that what was written in our original letter does justice to the complexity of the issues at stake—rather, we hoped this would be a starting point for further discussion, as we believe there is a genuine case to be made for the mandate within Catholic doctrine itself, but the university has not engaged us on this point.
Why the university is pursuing this suit remains unclear.