Just Who Do They Think They’re Fooling?


Notre Dame's president has led in putting contraceptives and abortificients in hands of its employees and students. He now plans to lead its delegation in the annual March for Life. Click To Tweet

Just as Notre Dame’s response to the Obamacare abortifcient/contraceptive mandate began with misrepresentations to the courts, as we recounted in our last bulletin, so does it continue with misrepresentations to everyone else. While the administration tries to lay responsibility on its insurers for the provision of free abortifacients and contraceptives to its students and employees, in fact this is Father Jenkins’s decision. He has repudiated the University’s long-standing refusal to play any role in the provision of abortifacients and contraceptives and has turned the University into the sponsor, if cloaked, of their distribution to students and employees and, accordingly, a facilitator of the abortions they cause. He has doubled down on the University’s recent decision to make cut-rate abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization available to employees through its Flexible Spending Account program. Nevertheless, he plans to lead the Notre Dame delegation to the March for Life in a few days.

What follows is the story of this most recent, but hopefully not final, chapter in Notre Dame’s response to the Obamacare abortifacient/contraceptive mandate.

We have described in previous bulletins  Notre Dame’s bewildering reversals of position since the Trump administration offered religious organizations exemptions from the mandate. Notre Dame initially notified its employees that they would continue to receive free abortifacients and contraceptives; then told them they would not; then, finally, told them that they would.

The Alibi

Notre Dame’s wildly improbable explanation is that this was all due to a failure of communication with Meritain/Optum, its contractors.

According to Paul Browne, Notre Dame’s vice president for communications, after the change in the regulations

We believed that the insurance companies would discontinue no-cost coverage for contraceptives for employees at the end of the year.

And so that’s what they told the employees.

But they were wrong, Browne continued, presumably to their surprise:

Since then, we have been informed that Meritain Health/OptumRx will continue such coverage indefinitely.

So, Notre Dame switched for the second time. It told the employees that, while the University “follows Catholic teaching about the use of contraceptives,” in view of “the plurality of religious and other convictions among its employees, it will not interfere with the provision of contraceptives that will be administered and funded independent of the University.”

(This is the only invocation we have discovered of the newly minted, and risible, “Least Common Denominator” school of moral theology.)

The university followed with a similar notice to over 3,000 students under the student plan about what the insurer, Aetna, intended to do.

Is this even faintly plausible? Consider the likelihood of Notre Dame’s not talking to its insurers before telling the employees what the insurers were going to do. Visualize also these for-profit companies as free-spending partners of Planned Parenthood in the abortion and contraception wars, presumably prepared to provide the same free contraceptive coverage to all their other clients.

The Truth

Now consider the single fact that cuts through this fanciful account and places full responsibility squarely where it belongs, on Father Jenkins and whoever collaborated with him: The University, not having elected an exemption, continues to operate under the  “accommodation” program it has used since it failed to get a court injunction in 2014.

There is no doubt about this. One wouldn’t know it from Notre Dame’s statements, but if Notre Dame has not claimed an exemption, it must comply with the mandate pursuant to the “accommodation” program. Notre Dame has never so much as hinted that it has claimed an exemption, and we have given Father Jenkins and Notre Dame’s General Counsel ample opportunity to say that the University has taken the steps necessary to withdraw from the accommodation. We said if they declined, we would assume the University has not withdrawn. They have declined.

This provides a straightforward and credible explanation for what’s happened. Under the accommodation, the Meritain/Optum are obliged to furnish free abortifacient/contraceptive coverage to employees, but they’re compensated by the government.   They have no choice.  Neither did Notre Dame before the Trump adminstration’s revision of the regulation and its settlement of Notre Dame’s lawsuit.

But now it’s Notre Dame’s call, not the government’s, for the University could have claimed an exemption, and still could. Evidently Father Jenkins toyed with that idea when the University announced that the coverage would end. But faculty and students protested, and Father Jenkins decided to stick with the accommodation. Whereupon the University announced that the coverage would continue after all.

By this action, Father Jenkins doubled down on university’s recent decision to offer for the first time cut-rate abortifacients, sterilization, and contraceptives to employees participating in the University’s Flexible Saving Account program. The University initially included surgical abortions, but when we caught and publicized these startling changes  the university quickly shifted to damage control mode. It backed off on surgical abortions, but not on abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization.

We end where we began:  Father Jenkins has turned Notre Dame into a facilitator of abortions. Father Jenkins, not the insurers, has decided that Notre Dame students and employees should have free abortifacients and contraceptives. He knows this will result in a large, if indeterminate, number of abortions. (See the analyses of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Charlotte Lozier Institute (headed by a Sycamore Trust board member Charles Donovan) on the abortion-inducing character of “morning after pills” and IUD’s, all now provided to ND students and employees.) The insurers are acting in substance as Notre Dame’s agents in providing the coverage, but in terms of responsibility the prescriptions should be stamped “ND” and might as well be handed out to students in the Main Building and sent to employees along with their paychecks.

This is what the Pontifical Academy for Life had to say  about those responsible for the distribution of morning-after pills:

From the ethical standpoint the same absolute unlawfulness of abortifacient procedures also applies to distributing, prescribing and taking the morning-after pill. All who, whether sharing the intention or not, directly co-operate with this procedure are also morally responsible for it.

We add that, while the responsibility for the distribution of abortifacients and contraceptives would be Father Jenkins’s  even if he simply gave permission to requests by insurers, it is depressing to see the misrepresentation and dissembling that have characterized this matter at an institution whose mission is to seek and speak the truth.

The March for Life, January 19

Father Jenkins attended the March for the first time – indeed, the first time for any Notre Dame president – in 2009 after the Obama debacle. It was an obvious damage control move and an embarrassment. Eighty-four cardinal, archbishops, and bishops had condemned his action in honoring the Church’s most formidable adversary on abortion. The late Nellie Gray, storied founder of the March, phoned Bill Dempsey to talk about her concern that Father Jenkins might ask to be on the platform.

Nevertheless, we welcomed his attendance. It lent prestige to the event within the University and attracted more students and faculty. And there was at least something to be said in Father Jenkins’s defense, however flimsy.

This year, however, Father Jenkins’s action is far more serious than the honoring of President Obama. It involves Notre Dame’s role in the termination of life, and there is nothing to be said in his defense.

Accordingly, we had hoped that Father Jenkins would not attend. But he will, and he will be principal celebrant of the Notre Dame Mass at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Arlington, Virginia, which once again is generous host to the Notre Dame delegation. It is hard to see how he can preach a pro-life homily with credibility. The hypocrisy and scandal are evident — his action seems to imply that  the use of abortifacients and contraceptives is acceptable, whatever reservations the University might set to paper —  and will surely not go unmarked.

The Future

But perhaps Father Jenkins’s experience at the March will inspire him to change his mind. Let us pray that it does. Otherwise, we will look to the Fellows and Trustees of the University to reverse this execrable action, so hostile to human life and so damaging to Notre Dame’s claim to be a Catholic university. We will shortly offer a petition for you to consider.


The student Right to Life club is sponsoring a “Prayer Campaign for the Catholic Identity of Notre Dame” during the month of January. It is an especially appropriate time. For details and directions about participating, go here.

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