Graduate students file new suit against Notre Dame

On June 26th, while most students were enjoying time away from campus or working their summer jobs, the controversy over contraception coverage at Notre Dame continued.

Following a spring semester filled with changes to Notre Dame’s medical insurance coverage, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the National Women’s Law Center filed suit on behalf of four individual plaintiffs (graduate student Natasha Reifenberg and three Jane Does) and members of Irish 4 Reproductive Health.

The latter group is an unincorporated association of undergraduate and graduate students whose mission is “to advocate for reproductive justice on campus and in the surrounding community, including by securing access to insurance coverage of the full range of FDA approved contraceptive methods and related services, education, and counseling, with no out-of pocket costs.” According to the case filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, “[Irish 4 Reproductive Health] promotes human dignity by affording respect to all people to make moral choices about their own lives, including whether and when to have children.” The group took shape and took action this spring, distributing condoms and holding demonstrations in protest of the university’s shifting stance on contraceptive coverage.

Last February, President John I. Jenkins C.S.C. announced major changes to the university health insurance policy in a letter to the Notre Dame community. “I have reached the conclusion that it is best that the University stop the government-funded provision of the range of drugs and services through our third party administrator,” Jenkins said. “Instead, the University will provide coverage in the University’s own insurance plans for simple contraceptives (i.e., drugs designed to prevent conception).” He insisted that the University’s insurance plans “have never covered, and will not cover, abortion-inducing drugs.”

The defendants claim that these coverage changes of last February are in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare), and the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“By their actions,” the plaintiffs write, “the Departments have embarked on a two-tiered effort to do by fiat what the courts had refused to allow: give employers and universities a veto over the legal rights of countless women to obtain coverage of necessary health care.”

Though the case has yet to be heard and a verdict is still in the distant future, it is certain that the debate over contraceptive coverage at Notre Dame is far from settled.  

Soren Hansen, a senior, is a proud member of the Program of Liberal Studies who loves discussing the merits of sweatpants and what it means to be human. She is also pursuing a minor in Constitutional Studies. She can be reached at