The University of Notre Dame pursued a recent lawsuit against the birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act. The school believes that such a law is government infringement on its freedom to practice religion.
In the school’s initial dissent, the lawsuit was denied and appealed at the federal level. On Feb. 21, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court was in accordance with the ruling of a previous federal judge and, once again, denied the school’s case. The university must now comply to provide contraceptive coverage.
Notre Dame falls into a category of religiously affiliated non-profit groups that may reject specifications in the Affordable Care Act’s requirement of a “full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods [and] sterilization procedures.”
Although groups can file an objection claim that shifts the accountability of birth control to an alternate party, the underlying controversy is the notion that they are still indirectly supporting contraceptive coverage.
In 2013 alone, a total of 45 religious non-profit parties have brought lawsuits against this mandate. Out of this total, at least four were colleges that were granted injunctions. This context is inconsistent with the Notre Dame ruling, suggesting that the religious-institution versus birth control dispute has yet to determine unswerving legal grounds.
Spokesman for Notre Dame Paul Brown stated the school’s “concern remains that if government is allowed to entangle a religious institution of higher education like Notre Dame in one area contrary to conscience, it’s given license to do so in others.”
This controversy expands beyond the context of one school’s fight for religious autonomy and has serious implications for others like it.
Boston College, as a community founded on Jesuit tradition, shares a comparable religious morality to that of Notre Dame. These ideals can be observed in the institution’s health policy as well.
According to BC’s Health Services, “Because of the moral values that Boston College espouses, University Health Services, by policy, does not provide materials for the purpose of preventing conception or counsel that would encourage abortion.”
Last March presented a pertinent controversy between students and faculty administrators within the BC community. School board officials exposed that disciplinary actions would ensue against students who distributed condoms out of their dorms.
“As a Jesuit, Catholic university, there are certain Catholic commitments that Boston College is called to uphold," said Jack Dunn, a spokesman for BC. "We ask our students to respect these commitments, particularly as they pertain to Catholic social teaching on the sanctity of life.”
“We see it as very intrinsic of being a Jesuit that we provide these resources and we affirm the whole person,” responded the chair of Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH), Lizzie Jekanowski, A&S ’13. “Students shouldn’t have to choose between holistic health care and a world class institution.”
Although the “Separation of church and state” is explicitly stated in the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the phrase’s interpretations are versatile and contradictory.
Boston College may find itself in future legal bindings if contraceptive cases like that of Notre Dame continue to gain national attention, as well as emphasize a need for legal consistency.