The National Organization for Women calls on the Obama administration to stand up for women and not give in to demands from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that would deny birth control coverage for millions of women. The bishops have been lobbying the administration to expand a religious exemption that would allow a broad range of religiously affiliated organizations, such as colleges and hospitals, to take contraception coverage away from women who rely on them for health insurance. NOW calls on the president to remove the exemption altogether.
In early August, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) accepted recommendations from the Institute of Medicine to require that health insurance plans cover contraception, with no co-payments or deductibles. NOW was dismayed that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius included a so-called ‘conscience’ clause — as if an institution could have a conscience — permitting certain religious employers like churches to exclude birth control from their employees’ health insurance. This proposed provision violates individual women’s rights to privacy and religious freedom, and denies women the equal protection of the laws. Far from being expanded, as the bishops demand, the clause should be removed entirely from the HHS regulation.
A recent poll by Thomson Reuters-NPR Health found that 77 percent of Americans believe private medical insurance should provide birth control without co-pays. Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women have used contraception, including 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women, as reported by the Guttmacher Institute. Yet this important health benefit could be lost for more than a million women and their families, and the decision will soon be made by the Obama administration.
The ill-considered proposed refusal clause in the women’s birth control benefit undermines women’s access to basic health care. NOW urges President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to say ‘yes’ to contraceptive coverage for all women and ‘no’ to the bishops’ relentless attempts to deny women their rights.