In 2017, the University of Notre Dame teamed up with the Trump-Pence administration in a secret settlement agreement to deny students and staff birth control coverage. This was happening at the same time the Trump-Pence Administration was issuing rules to allow virtually any employer to refuse to provide birth control coverage. In 2018, we sued, because birth control coverage shouldn’t depend on where you work or where you to go school. And on June 10, we’ll finally have our day in court: Alongside our partners at the Center for Reproductive Rights and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, we’ll be taking on the Trump-Pence administration and the University of Notre Dame in oral argument.
We’re going to court because everyone deserves access to birth control — but the Trump-Pence administration doesn’t seem to think so. According to Trump, if your employer or school professes religious or moral objections to birth control, those objections override your own decisions about birth control. According to Trump, your boss’ religious or moral beliefs are more important than your own. And the University of Notre Dame agrees, having taken advantage of the Trump-Pence administration’s policies to insert its own religion into the health decisions of its students and staff. That’s not okay. None of this is okay. That’s why we’re going to court.
Here are the five things you need to know about just how disturbing the Trump-Pence administration’s attempts are:
- Birth control is wildly popular, and Trump knows it. The ACA birth control benefit — which guarantees birth control coverage without out-of-pocket costs–and birth control in general are wildly popular among the public. That’s why the Trump-Pence Administration’s first attempt at allowing any employer to get out of providing birth control coverage was met with widespread protest and condemnation. That’s also why when it tried to do the same thing a year later, it waited until the day after the historic 2018 midterm elections, betting on the fact that no one would be paying attention. But we were. And we know that birth control is popular for a reason: because it increases individual’s abilities to make the best decisions for their physical and economic well-being. So when the Trump-Pence administration steps into court in June and begins spewing its usual rhetoric, know this: The majority of people support birth control, and the Trump-Pence administration is willfully ignoring the views of the majority of people in favor of a few special interest groups who want to restrict our reproductive rights.
- These attacks are illegal. Like really, really illegal. Where do we start? For one, the Trump-Pence administration rules and this settlement agreement violate the Affordable Care Act for a whole host of reasons (and we’re not the only ones who think that: two federal courts have already said so). But these attacks on birth control don’t stop at simply violating the Affordable Care Act—they also blatantly go against a Supreme Court order (in a case called Zubik v. Burwell). And then there’s, you know, the Constitution. The government’s attacks on birth control violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which enshrines the separation of church and state into law. The constitution also guarantees equal protection of the law under the equal protection clause, and these attacks on birth control are clearly not that: they’re discrimination on the basis of sex. Finally, by singling out birth control, Trump’s rollbacks on birth control infringe on the right to access birth control by making it different from other preventive services (which don’t require out-of-pocket costs). Basically: the Trump-Pence administration’s rules and this settlement agreement with Notre Dame are really, really illegal. (Interested in just how illegal they are? Check out our more in-depth explanation).
- This is just the latest example of a disturbing trend: using settlements to make law. Before he ever took office, Trump was already an old hand when it came to settling out of court (Trump University, anyone?). I mean, hey — when you get sued as many times as our president has, you probably start racking up rewards points. Settlements are most often used in civil proceedings to avoid risk to the involved parties, wrapping things up before they escalate in the courtroom. But the Trump administration is using settlement agreements to allow the University of Notre Dame and other employers to get out of a legal requirement to provide contraceptive coverage. Not only do we know almost nothing about how this deal played out because it happened behind closed doors — but it also violates federal law.
- If these policies spread, young people, people of color, and LGBTQ people will be hurt the most. Before the ACA and its birth control benefit went into effect, people across the country had to pay out-of-pocket for their birth control. The cost varied, but it wasn’t uncommon to see a price tag as high as $40 per month. For low-income people, including college students, that kind of cost could be prohibitive; your theoretical access to birth control means nothing if you’re priced out of it. With the ability to plan whether and how to become a parent placed out of reach, many people find their physical, mental, and economic wellbeing at risk. Millions of people, including LGBTQ people, use it for purposes other than the prevention of pregnancy; it’s also a tool for managing the symptoms of endometriosis, reducing cramps during menstruation, and regulating periods. And birth control isn’t one-size-fits-all. Choosing a method of birth control is a decision that should belong to each person and their health care provider, not CEOs, boards of directors or administrators at a university.
- Birth control is just part of it. Let’s be honest: those who want to take away reproductive health care won’t stop here. These attacks on birth control that we’re fighting in court? They’re just one part of a broader attack on individual rights and freedoms. The students we’re representing at the University of Notre Dame have been denied birth control coverage for over a year. But they’ve also had to contend with Notre Dame’s (mis)handling of sexual assault cases and the Indiana state government’s efforts to thwart an abortion clinic from opening in South Bend. This isn’t a coincidence. Even when Notre Dame or Trump administration officials claim it’s just about one rule concerning birth control, it’s not. The truth is that these threats to birth control are part of a larger threat to our autonomy to live our lives the way we want. We’re taking on this fight against birth control in court — and we’ll keep taking on every fight we need to until gender justice becomes a reality.