Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
Although Notre Dame declared just weeks ago that it would no longer be offering insurance coverage of birth control for employees and students, the private university has changed its mind yet again. After a media fallout and threats of lawsuits from the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Notre Dame finally said that it will instead continue offering contraception coverage.
The Catholic university’s decision to rescind coverage in the first place came when, in early October, President Trump fulfilled his promise to roll back the Obama administration’s controversial contraception mandate. It is now easier and safer for American businesses and institutions to opt out of paying for drugs that may cause abortions, or simply violate Catholic teaching. And while Notre Dame’s initial move attracted no small amount of criticism from progressives, it naturally drew praise from a number of faithful Catholics. Many, myself included, were pleased to see the university actually honoring its Catholic heritage, and enacting policies that reflect historic Catholic thought on the subject of human sexuality.
What makes Notre Dame’s flip-flopping particularly noteworthy is the fact that the university had originally fought so hard against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Back in December 2013, mere days before the mandate was to go into effect, Notre Dame sued to block it and requested an emergency injunction. They were, of course, denied, both initially and in the appeals process, but it couldn’t be said that they didn’t take a refreshing stand for not only their religious beliefs, but for religious freedom in general.
So it made sense that when President Donald Trump implemented the rule change last month, Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins stated that since “critical issues of religious freedom are at stake...we welcome this reversal and applaud the attorney general’s statement that ‘except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law'.” It made sense that the private Catholic university would stop paying for things which violate the collective Catholic conscience.
And so this is why it’s so very confounding that Notre Dame has announced they will indeed still be offering contraceptive coverage. Why the sudden about-face? Particularly when you consider how hard the university fought for their right to deny coverage in the first place? A statement released by the university includes the following:
The University of Notre Dame, as a Catholic Institution, follows Catholic teaching about the use of contraceptives and engages in the recent lawsuit to protect its freedom to act in accord with its principles. Recognizing, however, 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 independently of the University.
This of course comes after Notre Dame, on Oct. 27, had already sent letters to employees and students, alerting them of the changes. It certainly seems they were committed to eliminating coverage. Until, well, they weren’t.
It is admittedly disappointing to see a highly-regarded Catholic institution capitulate to the pitchfork-wielding mob. Whether it was the bad press, the plaintive cries of triggered college students, or the threat of litigation, Notre Dame threw its values to the wind on account of “the plurality of religious and other convictions among its employees.” This explanation is, of course, patently absurd—because regardless what this mysterious assortment of convictions is, Notre Dame is a Catholic university. And so you’d expect to see the school operating with Catholic distinctives in mind. Even when those distinctives include beliefs about artificial birth control and abortion.
For whatever reason, it would seem that the notion of a Catholic school being a Catholic school is simply no longer acceptable. In an age of widespread moral confusion and unrest—when the stories coming out of both Hollywood and Washington, DC read not unlike the script for a seedy movie plot—we ought to be applauding an institution that upholds ideals like chastity and love. In a time when college campuses are most likely to make the news for hazing deaths and rapes, we ought to be promoting and emulating schools that offer both students and faculty a better way. But instead, when a college embraces its religious heritage and attempts to pass it on to the next generation, it is condemned as judgmental, intolerant, and a relic of the past. And inevitably bullied into submission.
We may never know why, exactly, Notre Dame reversed its decision. Surely they understand that in appeasing the angry masses, they are also simultaneously disappointing the faithful—for whom it would have been heartening to see the university stand its ground, both from a religious and political perspective. More and more, people of all faiths are sensing that their freedom is being eroded. It takes courage to live by one’s convictions, and it is a sad day when even a prestigious Catholic university can be intimidated into sacrificing its identity on the altar of public opinion.