No-Cost Birth Control Under Attack for Some Students
For students at Catholic universities nationwide, the right to no-cost birth control is under attack.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced last month that, starting next year, all new health insurance plans will be required to cover contraception and preventative women’s health care—without charging co-pays.
The announcement was a huge victory for public health and women’s rights, and has been received as a tremendously popular policy. According to a recent Reuters-National Public Radio poll, 77 percent of Americans want private insurance to cover birth control.
But a growing number of conservative groups are pushing to expand the Department of Health and Human Services’ “conscience clause,” which provides an exemption to the contraception coverage mandate for “religious employers.”
A religious employer is defined as one that:
(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization.
But this language is not enough for some who argue that Catholic hospitals and universities may not be covered under the exception.
Troublingly, some of the most vocal opponents to no-cost birth control are academics who might have sway with the White House. And if they have their way, women who depend on Catholic-affiliated universities and hospitals for birth control could get stuck with burdensome and deterring co-pays.
The backlash from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is fairly predictable, if out of step with the realities of the bishops’ congregations.
An April report from the Guttmacher Institute indicates that 99 percent of sexually active American women, and 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women, have used some form of contraception at some point.
But now a number of prominent Catholic academics are also pushing for stricter conscience protections during a period of public comment on the mandate that runs through the end of this month.
“This is a group of professors that called out Boehner’s budget for being anti-poor,” says Sarah Audelo, the senior domestic policy manager at Advocates For Youth. “They could have significant influence with the administration.”
Advocates For Youth is coordinating a petition urging the Department of Health and Human Services not to bow to pressure on the conscience clause and inviting Catholic-affiliated signers to tell their stories.
Numerous advocates assert that a conscience clause for contraception is altogether unnecessary and that it would undermine the purpose of the mandate by restricting some women’s access to contraception, which the Institute of Medicine categorized as basic preventative care.
And opponents who call the morning-after pill an abortifacient ignore both the science of how the pill works and the fact that contraception prevents abortions.
Further, advocates say, insurance coverage does not require those who are morally opposed to birth control to use it.
As Adam Sonfield of the Guttmacher Institute argued, “Insurance would basically become unworkable if everyone got a veto over what services any other member of the insurance pool could use.”
The only truly unconscionable act here would be to deny women common-sense health care.
Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.