UPDATE: Notre Dame fights Obama health care plan

By: Kevin Lewis Email
By: Kevin Lewis Email

The University of Notre Dame is taking on the White House. It’s fighting to appeal President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul which will force the school to offer birth control to its students, faculty and staff.

It's a catch-22 for the Roman Catholic university which doesn't believe in contraceptives, but at the same time, doesn't want to break the law.

Although the initiative went into effect in July, Notre Dame has until next August, when its new benefit plan kicks-in, to fix the problem. If nothing changes, the school will have to pick between three tricky options.

First, it could provide birth control, but doing so would go against catholic beliefs. Second, the university could drop its health care plan, eliminating insurance for thousands. The final option, Notre Dame could refuse to abide by Obama’s order. That however, could come with a fine well over one million dollars a day.

"You’re doing an extraordinary job as president of this extraordinary institution,” President Barack Obama said to Father John Jenkins during Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement address.

Whatever headway Father Jenkins and President Obama have made over the last two years, vanished in the last two days.

On Wednesday, Jenkins wrote a letter to Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius. In it, he asked for a change to the health care overhaul so the school would not need to provide birth control to its students and employees.

"It’s about as tough as it gets. We’re talking about every catholic university, every catholic hospital, and every catholic social service agency,” Professor of Law Carter Snead said.

The strict language came by surprise, especially after President Obama alluded to creating an opt-out clause for catholic institutions back in 2009.

"Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause,” Obama told students, faculty and staff during his commencement speech.

"So there are two ways to understand it, either as a betrayal or a radical disagreement between the Obama administration and Notre Dame on what's ‘sensible,’” Snead added.

Many people say it’s simply insensible to have women pay up to $90 a month for birth control. Yet students, faculty and staff say it’s a trade off for attending the prestigious institution.

"If I went to another university, I would have been able to have birth control an easier way, but it wouldn't have been the same environment and I wouldn't have liked it as much,” Notre Dame Sophomore Ann Marie Kelly said.

"Of course the coercive force of the government is very much in play here and they will punish us severely if we don't violate our religious conscious,” Snead concluded.

An April study done by the Guttmacher Institute found 98 percent of sexually active catholic women have used contraceptives banned by the church. However, Notre Dame says most Catholics, regardless of their personal views, are outraged that the government would interfere with their religion’s sanctity.

If you’d like to read Father Jenkin’s full three-page letter to the Obama administration, just click on the Big Red Bar.

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