Americans United for Separation of Church and State last night won the right to intervene in a federal lawsuit that focuses on the right of students, faculty and staff to access birth control at the University of Notre Dame.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a brief order granting Americans United the right to represent three anonymous Notre Dame students. The students want to ensure that their health-care plan includes access to contraceptives, which they lack the financial means to purchase on their own.
“I welcome this move by the court,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Many Americans run the risk of losing their ability to get and use contraceptives. They deserve a voice in court. Thanks to this order, their stories will be heard.”
The lawsuit, University of Notre Dame v. Sebelius, was brought by officials at the university last month. They claim that a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires religiously affiliated institutions to allow third-party providers to give no-cost contraceptives to employees and students is a violation of the school’s religious liberty.
Americans United maintains that the accommodation given to institutions like Notre Dame is sufficient. All that institutions must do is certify that they do not wish to cover contraceptives. This then triggers an obligation on an entirely independent third-party insurer to offer contraceptive coverage to affected individuals. Under this arrangement, religiously affiliated entities do not themselves bear any financial or other responsibility for that coverage.
Americans United's successful intervention in the case will mark the first time that affected women have sought to play a formal role in any of the dozens of challenges that have been brought to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. AU says that the voices of these women -- who bring a perspective that is distinct from the federal government’s official position – must be heard.
“This is not some abstract legal debate,” said Ayesha Khan, legal director of Americans United. “The lack of access to birth control – something that the vast majority of Americans use at some point in their lives – is a hardship that affects real people, every day. Americans United looks forward to giving them a voice in court.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.