Students at the University of Notre Dame on Tuesday sued the Indiana school and the Trump administration over a move this year to drop coverage for some forms of birth control from the university’s health insurance plan, citing religious objections.
The suit touches on two hot-button issues that have been key parts of President Donald Trump’s agenda - scaling back the 2010 U.S. healthcare reform law known as Obamacare and promoting the rights of organizations with religious affiliations.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in South Bend, Indiana, contends that an October 2017 settlement between the Trump administration and the school, founded by a Roman Catholic religious order, violates terms of the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide health insurance policies that offer access to contraception and sterilization.
The settlement ended a federal investigation into whether some 70 U.S. institutions, including Notre Dame, were complying with Obamacare.
Obamacare contained an exception allowing churches not to offer contraception coverage if doing so went against their religious teaching. In a move that pleased Trump’s conservative Christian supporters, the White House in October broadened that exception, allowing it to apply to a broader range of institutions and businesses.
Following that decision, Notre Dame said its healthcare plan for students, employees and dependents would continue to offer coverage for birth control pills but drop it for intra-uterine devices and emergency contraceptives. Roman Catholic teaching prohibits most forms of birth control.
The lawsuit asks the court to block the school from enforcing the new policy. Notre Dame was accused of infringing women’s rights by the coalition of women’s rights and freedom-from-religion groups that worked with the students who filed the lawsuit.
“We are exposing this deceptive tactic and taking the administration and Notre Dame to court to stop them from chipping away at our right to control our bodies and lives,” Fatima Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement. “People deserve birth control coverage, no matter where they work or go to school.”
Notre Dame spokesman Paul Browne issued a one-sentence statement saying: “The assertions on the face of it are maliciously and preposterously false.” The university did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The 176-year-old school has more than 12,000 students.
Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott