President Obama will soon decide whether to approve a broader refusal clause under the new health care law that would allow organizations to deny contraceptive insurance coverage for their employees on religious or “moral” grounds. Regulations adopted earlier this year already contain a sweeping refusal clause for certain religiously-affiliated non-profits, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is pushing for more. Women’s rights supporters are sending messages to the president urging him to reject any expansion of refusal clauses that restrict women’s access to affordable contraception.
Earlier this year, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that health insurance under the Affordable Care Act’s Women’s Health Amendment include coverage for contraception, with no co-payment requirement or other fees. The IOM asserted that birth control is basic health care and that improved access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality, among other benefits.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services accepted the IOM’s recommendations and then incorporated these and other recommendations into the interim regulations. Unfortunately, these regulations include an exemption for certain religiously-affiliated non-profit organizations to provide insurance coverage for contraception. NOW submitted comments to HHS earlier this fall, objecting to any refusal clauses, and we asked our supporters to send their comments to the department. Now we hear that the bishops are pressuring the administration to further expand refusal clauses, and we are very concerned that the president will cave in. An overwhelming majority of the public, including Catholics, support the requirement that health plans cover contraception, with no co-payment. We know that 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control and that nearly all sexually-experienced persons have used contraception. The Catholic bishops are wildly out of touch with reality and are acting against basic reproductive health care needs of all women. Read NOW President Terry O’Neill’s open letter to President Obama for further details, and please send the president your views on the need for unrestricted access to contraception under the Affordable Care Act. You can send an email to the White House or you can call with your comments at 202-456-1414. Please take action as soon as possible.