Notre Dame's Flipflop on Birth Control isn't Enough for Campus Feminists

Notre Dame campus

When Emily Garrett, a fourth year English and Gender Studies student at Notre Dame, decided to attend the university, she didn’t realize at the time she would “sacrificing some of [her] basic rights.”

“My dad went to Notre Dame and Notre Dame is so big on tradition, I wanted to go where my dad went, where the Golden Dome was,” she remembers.

But some traditions have proven more tenuous than football, especially the Catholic University’s stance on providing birth control for students, staff, and faculty. It was just in early November that the school announced it would eliminate contraception coverage after the recent religious freedom protections put in place by the Trump administration in October.

Ultimately, Notre Dame did reverse their decision and university-sponsored insurance plans, like Aetna, are still providing coverage.

“I never felt pressured to go to mass or participate in the religious activities on campus,” says Garrett, who was raised Catholic and started the two-year old college organization Feminism ND, “But when you put boys and girls against one another and throw healthcare in the middle, you realize the university is still behind the times. Girls are always more aware of Notre Dame’s beliefs because we still have more at stake.”

Which begs the question that can a progressive woman, who cares about her sexual health, coexist at a conservative-minded university?

Mary Shiraef, a 26-year-old ND student and one of the five plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for denying women access to health insurance coverage, explains what this binary divide on the college is like: “This situation is not only about an institutions' beliefs, but about the costs of contraception for women and even more importantly, and relatedly, very basic access.”

Shiraef, herself, experienced Notre Dame’s systemic rejection of birth control firsthand when problems with her Mirena IUD flared up last year. After visits to the Notre Dame Campus Health Services, Women's Care Center, local Planned Parenthood (which has now shut down), ER, and local gynecologist, Shiraef was faced with two bills for $740 and $110, not to mention a run around for a routine ultrasound just to ensure her coil was still in place.

“It sounds like I live in an underdeveloped country with regards to my healthcare experiences [here at Notre Dame],” she describes.

Garrett echoes this sentiment: “There is very little sexual health education or access to condoms on campus, there aren’t even condoms at the 7-11 across the street, so we had a feeling the university would try to rollback Obamacare coverage,” she says. But that hasn’t stopped her from continually and actively trying to fight for women’s rights.

As Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America tells Bumble, "Today, more women graduate, lead, and innovate than at any other point in our history, and that’s true in large part for one very important reason: access to birth control. Any university that prides itself on developing future leaders and enabling students to be successful cannot in good conscience not attempt limit access to this basic health care. Planned Parenthood urges colleges and universities across the nation to pledge to protect birth control access from the start, instead of passing the buck to insurers.”

But now that Aetna and other health care providers others will be continuing coverage, Garrett feels partly responsible for the change in policy — she did protest at the university’s sacred Golden Dome, which she once held so highly.

“The country was looking at us,” she says. "It was our time to speak.”

- Priya Rao for The BeeHive