Why all students must care about ND’s health care change

“I write to announce steps based on Catholic principles that nevertheless provide access to some of the coverage that members of our community seek.”

Our university president, Father John Jenkins, CSC, addressed the faculty and staff with these words in his recent letter announcing the health insurance change on February 7. Now, Notre Dame will directly provide simple contraceptives in its insurance plan. As many, such as Right to Life, have noted, Fr. Jenkins and the administration thankfully decided to end the provision of abortifacients through its third party providers, Meritain Health and OptumRX, and will now promote natural family planning services. Nevertheless, as Fr. Jenkins outlines in the long letter, Notre Dame will continue to provide “simple” contraceptives through its own insurance plan, out of “respect” for those who rely on such coverage.

Respectfully, I would like to point out not only the immorality of providing contraceptives (to do so is contrary to Church teaching, as stated in Humanae Vitae), but the pedagogical ramifications of such actions. Fr. Jenkins writes that the university will take steps “based on Catholic principles,” but how can one do so if those very actions are contra Church teaching? He points to the “coverage that members of our community seek,” i.e., simple contraceptives, and while I understand that many will continue to use contraception, why does a Catholic university need to provide such coverage?

Moreover, as a community largely comprised of students, what should we seek? We should seek the truth. A Catholic university such as Notre Dame should ascribe to the truth—one that is rooted in Christ and his teachings.

So why should Notre Dame undergraduates care about this recent change? Because we attend a Catholic university whose mission is to uphold the truth; such a logical and moral failure on Notre Dame’s part will confuse and mislead its students regarding Church teaching on contraceptives. Notre Dame’s own mission statement reads:

“The university is dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake.” Furthermore, “there is a special obligation and opportunity, specifically as a Catholic university, to pursue the religious dimensions of all human learning.”

Truth for its own sake. It is important to acknowledge and respect those who hold different views from those of the Catholic Church. The core of the Catholic faith urges all of us to act with charity towards our neighbors, regardless of what they believe. But that does not mean Notre Dame is in any way obligated to provide access to contraceptives, when the Catholic Church expressly teaches that contraceptive use, outside medical use, is an intrinsic evil.

Father Jenkins further stated in his letter that “the University will provide to all who sign up for health care benefits a statement of the Catholic teaching on contraceptives, so that the Church’s teaching is clearly presented.” While I commend Fr. Jenkins for thinking to promulgate the Church’s stance on contraceptive use, I would argue that the decision to insure simple contraceptives will only confuse the students, faculty, and staff at Notre Dame. Students will ask, and have already been asking, why a Catholic university is providing contraceptives. Jenkins’ appeal to the plurality of thought and belief in the university community is a fair one, but falls short of justifying the university’s decision. Again, it is important to stress that we must all respect and care for everyone, regardless of belief—but it is perfectly within the University (and an individual’s right) to draw a line in matters of morality.

As a premier Catholic university, Notre Dame’s actions set an example—especially for its students. While the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraceptives may be unclear to many, that is no reason for students to let this decision slide by. Even if you are not the direct recipient of Notre Dame’s health care, as a student at this university you are part of a larger community—part of an institution that claims to uphold and act on the principles of the Catholic faith. Such rationalizations and logical jumps from the administration should trouble any student at Notre Dame who is concerned with knowing the truth—whether they are Catholic or not.

We should not ignore the recent push-back the University has received from faculty, students, alumni and the local community–most especially, Bishop Rhoades’ recent statement against Notre Dame’s decision. He points to the troubling ramifications of Notre Dame’s actions and appeals to the need to witness to the truth: “not providing funding for contraception would not be popular with some, but it would truly be a prophetic witness to the truth about human sexuality and its meaning and purpose. I hope and pray that the University will reconsider its decision.”

Recently, I wrote a letter with another student addressed to Fr. Jenkins about the mixed messages his attendance at the March for Life and the University’s health care provision of abortifacients send to students. The letter was signed by over 200 students within a week. Then the university announced its decision to stop providing abortion-inducing products through its third-party provider, only to say that it will now provide simple contraceptives directly. The point of the letter still stands: why the mixed messages? Why is this Catholic university misleading its students on matters of morality?

Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor states that “although each individual has a right to be respected in his own journey in search of the truth, there exists a prior moral obligation, and a grave one at that, to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, that outstanding defender of the rights of conscience, forcefully put it: “Conscience has rights because it has duties.” Furthermore, we must remember “the fundamental dependence of freedom upon truth, a dependence which has found its clearest and most authoritative expression in the words of Christ: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32).” Fr. Jenkins states the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraceptives, yet the actions of his administration do not adhere to that truth. Those actions will mislead members of the Notre Dame community and all who look to Notre Dame as an example.

So, to Fr. Jenkins and the administration: please uphold the Catholic identity of Notre Dame and, as Bishop Rhoades asked, reconsider your decision to provide simple contraceptives.  

Sarah Ortiz is a junior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies and classics. The snowfall this past weekend made her feel like Notre Dame was Narnia. To share her joy, contact her at sortiz2@nd.edu.