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Notre Dame students can intervene in birth-control suit

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A federal appeals court has ruled three University of Notre Dame students who want the school to provide health care plans covering birth control can intervene on the side of the federal government in a university-filed lawsuit that challenges parts of the Affordable Health Care Act.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled late Tuesday that the three students – identified only as Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 – can take part in the lawsuit. Ayesha Khan, who is representing the women and is legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Wednesday that the women wanted a say in the lawsuit because they have a perspective different from lawyers representing the federal government.

“They are the people who would be impacted by Notre Dame getting out of the Affordable Care Act regulation,” she said. “The United States is defending an entire regulatory skein, not speaking on behalf of any particularly affected women.”

She said students’ decisions to attend Notre Dame should not make them unable to have health care coverage that covers birth control “that the government has determined to be necessary for women’s health care.”

University spokesman Paul Browne said the case is fundamentally about the mandate’s unconstitutional impingement on religious liberty, “and only incidentally about contraceptive services.”

“If government is allowed to entangle a religious institution in one area contrary to conscience, it’s given license to do so in others,” he said.

The university filed a lawsuit last month challenging a compromise in the Affordable Health Care Act offered by the Obama administration that attempted to create a buffer for religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and social service groups that oppose birth control. The law requires insurers or the health plan’s outside administrator to pay for birth control coverage for students and employees and creates a way to reimburse them.

Notre Dame contends that the law violates its freedom to practice religion without government interference. When U.S. District Judge Philip Simon rejected the university’s request for an injunction last month, the school filed an appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeals court ruling means that lawyers representing the three women will file briefs in the lawsuit at the same time as federal lawyers and could be taking part in oral arguments next month, Khan said.

She said the three women wish to remain anonymous because the case involves information of a “private nature.” The university’s code of conduct states that students who engage in sex outside of marriage may be subject to referral to the university conduct process.

Khan also said the women could be “ostracized” if their identities were made public.

The university is in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

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