The Trump administration and the University of Notre Dame are facing a lawsuit brought by secular and women’s rights groups over a settlement under which the federal government and the school agreed to deny students, employees, and their dependents access to birth control.
The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, says that “unlawful settlement agreement” circumvents birth control rights guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act. The plaintiffs are represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State as well as the National Women’s Law Center and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The suit was filed on behalf of a student-run reproductive health group and others who are insured under Notre Dame’s health plans, and it also challenges the government’s 2017 rules allowing employers to refuse compliance with the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirement, according to Americans United.
Even though federal courts in California and Pennsylvania issued preliminary injunctions blocking the Trump-Pence interim final rules from taking effect, Notre Dame claims the illegal settlement agreement with the administration gives it the right to drop coverage, notwithstanding the fact that the contract violates the rights of third parties who were not included in the negotiation process, or even informed of the agreement, at the time. Notre Dame relied on the settlement earlier this year when it announced its plan to take contraceptive coverage away from the 17,000 employees, students and dependents covered by its plans. The change will go into effect for employees on July 1 and for students in August. Some popular methods, like the copper IUD and emergency contraceptives, will not be covered at all and other methods will require an out-of-pocket payment.
“Universities should not be allowed to use religion to deny women access to birth control,” said Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser. “The Trump-Pence administration and the University of Notre Dame conspired in secret dealings to take away insurance coverage for women’s reproductive healthcare. This lawsuit aims to get it back.”
AU and the reproductive health groups say it’s illegal to take away contraceptive coverage “behind closed doors,” and that Notre Dame and the Trump administration are using deceptive tactics to “chip away” at the right to reproductive health care.
“Millions of women are benefiting today from the ACA’s guarantee that they can choose the best contraception for them without a co-pay. The Trump administration is trying to deny women the no-copay contraceptive benefit through regulatory loopholes and side agreements that exempt employers and universities from complying with Federal law. That’s unlawful and we’ve sued to stop them,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.”
Once again, a Republican government and a religious university are working hand-in-hand to achieve a goal that would make life harder for women. They don’t care. If this lawsuit is successful, though, they won’t get away with it.
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