In an important decision that ensures access to affordable birth control for millions of women, including those who get insurance coverage through a religiously affiliated hospital, university, or other religiously affiliated organization that serves the broader public, the Obama administration announced today that it would not expand an unconstitutional refusal clause that will already deny contraceptive coverage to some women under the Affordable Care Act. NOW thanks the many activists and women’s rights supporters around the country who flooded the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services with messages urging the administration to remove — not expand — that refusal clause.
Last year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops intensified its lobbying campaign peddling a version of so-called “religious freedom” that would allow organizations to withhold needed reproductive health care from women, as if those organizations were people with the ability to have a “conscience.” Though 77 percent of women and men in this country believe private medical insurance should cover birth control with no co-pay, just like any other preventive health service, the bishops had already convinced HHS to insert a deeply discriminatory refusal clause that will deny birth control to women who work for religious institutions, such as churches, and get their health coverage through their employers.
Contraception is basic medical care, and nearly all women use a form of birth control at some point in their lives. On average, a woman uses birth control for 30 years of her life at an average cost of $50 per month. After a thorough review that included independent recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, contraceptive coverage will be available without co-pay under the Affordable Care Act.
The National Organization for Women remains deeply disturbed by the narrower refusal clause earlier secured by the bishops. Any attack on some women’s access to birth control is an attack on all women’s access to birth control. We continue to affirm that any reproductive health refusal clause infringes a woman’s right to freedom of religion under the First Amendment, her right to privacy under Griswold v. Connecticut, her right to equal protection of the laws under the 14th Amendment, and her right to be free from workplace discrimination.