Update: The University of Notre Dame has reversed its decision to end free birth control coverage for employees, according to The Hill.
"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," the university said in a statement.
"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."
This story was originally published on November 1.
In her time as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, there's one necessity senior Emily Garrett has never had to worry about being able to afford, no matter how tight her student budget might be.
Her chosen birth control, a NuvaRing, was completely covered — in other words, free — under her student insurance plan.
Future students won't be so lucky. Starting next year, the Catholic university will stop providing birth control coverage for students on its health plans. In Garrett's case, that would have meant paying full-price — $200 a month — for contraception.
"That's insane. That's how much I make in my on-campus student job," she told Refinery29. "It's going to become a matter of, 'Do I want to pay for groceries this month or do I want to afford my birth control prescription?'"
Under the change in policy, announced Friday in a letter to faculty, staff and students, the private Catholic university in Indiana will continue to cover birth control only in cases where it is used as treatment for a medical condition, not for pregnancy prevention. It is believed to mark the first time a major organization has taken full advantage of the Trump administration's decision to relax the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.
Garrett said she and her friends are frustrated because the student body wasn't consulted on the change or informed of the decision-making process. And even if they voice their opposition now, it feels like "we don't have the power to put our money where our mouth is to be influential decision-makers in the university."
"I felt like we had been going on the right direction in campus," she said. "And then, to have the university come out and say they won't cover contraception is a regressive standpoint on women's healthcare."
Notre Dame used to offer birth control coverage through a third-party system for religious employers implemented by the Obama administration. But the school had long sought to drop contraception coverage entirely, and the relaxing of the Obamacare mandate allowed them to do exactly that. (A Notre Dame spokesperson forwarded a copy of the letter students, faculty, and staff received Friday to Refinery29 and declined to comment further on the matter.)
It's going to become a matter of, 'Do I want to pay for groceries this month or do I want to afford my birth control prescription?'
Emily Garrett, senior at the University of Notre Dame
The Obamacare birth control mandate allowed more than 55 million women in the country to obtain contraception without copayments. And it saved a lot of money: A 2015 government study found that women saved about $1.4 billion in birth control pills alone. But in October, the Trump administration rolled back the rule, widely expanding employers' ability to raise moral and religious objections to covering birth control and making it easier for them to drop the coverage from their health insurance plans altogether.
That change has been met with criticism from proponents of birth control access — and a lawsuit filed by the The American Civil Liberties Union that includes a Notre Dame student as a plaintiff. In a statement to Refinery29, Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, called Notre Dame's decision "deeply disappointing."
"We have already taken legal action against the Trump Administration because our client Kate Rochat and the thousands of other women affected by this decision should not have their access to basic health care services denied simply because of where they work or go to school," she said.
It's unclear whether other religiously affiliated universities will rolled back coverage as well (the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities did not respond to a request for comment from Refinery29).
But some Notre Dame students frustrated with the change worry about the broader implications such shifts could have for key tenets of higher education as a whole.
"I was really upset, because the university makes a commitment to diversity ... including like respecting the dignity of every person regardless of their race, nationality, and religion," Luciana Jansen, who is originally from Brazil and said she had never experienced such a pushback against contraception in the deeply Catholic nation, told Refinery29. "For me, if you're preventing students from having access to contraceptive care because you're trying to make everyone adhere to your religious beliefs, that's incompatible with your commitment to diversity."
(Both women are members of the same group on campus, and spoke with Refinery29 on their own behalf, not in an official capacity.)
According to Vox, Notre Dame has about 5,800 employees and 12,300 students at the moment. An university spokesperson told the outlet that roughly 90% of the employees and 25% of the students are insured through the plan offered by the school and could potentially be affected by the policy change, which takes effect next August for students and at the end of this year for faculty and staff.
Of course, there are those who might say that students shouldn't have enrolled or sought employment at a religious institution if they knew its values would be in direct opposition to their own. But to Garrett, that's a nonsensical argument.
"Those people who have been arguing, 'If you disagree with the university so strongly, why did you even come here in the first place?' Well, I came to this university when I was 18 and I had very little sense of self, very little position on religion and politics," she said. "We're allowed to be frustrated."