Birth Control Under Attack

by Debra Ness, President, National Partnership for Women and Families

Anti-choice extremists are trying to undermine women’s right to birth control under the Affordable Care Act. The health reform law covers preventive services, including birth control, without copays, deductibles or other added cost. For most women of reproductive age, contraception and birth control are the care they need most, the care they get most regularly, and their main reason for interacting with health providers, so this is one of the greatest benefits to women from the new law.

We were thrilled in August when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agreed and announced that women will have access to all approved contraceptive methods without co-pays or added cost under the Affordable Care Act.

But all women need this coverage. The administration included an unfair, broad — and potentially terribly harmful — exemption for certain religious employers, who would not have to provide coverage for contraception to their employees.

Too much is on the line for these women who rely on insurance to pay for their birth control. That’s why we’re urging President Obama to do what’s right for women’s health — to remove this religious refusal provision and not leave any women behind.

Tell President Obama that all women need access to contraception without co-pays or added cost, including women who work for religious employers!

Let’s not leave any woman to fend for herself.

Cross-posted with National Partnership for Women and Families

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Tell President Obama All Women Need Affordable Birth Control

by Judy Waxman, Vice President for Health and Reproductive Rights at National Women’s Law Center

They’re at it again. Opponents of birth control are trying to put women’s health at risk.

Over the summer, we secured a big victory when we helped get all forms of FDA-approved contraceptives covered and without a co-pay. However, we were dismayed that the administration allowed some employers to deny this coverage to their employees. Now, some opponents of contraception are pressuring President Obama to deny this critical benefit to more than a million more women.

Tell them NO! When we make progress in women’s health, ALL women deserve to be part of that success. Tell the President that all women should have coverage of contraception without co-pays.

The reality is that nearly all of sexually active women in the U.S., regardless of their religious beliefs, use contraception at some point in their lives, and it is a preventive health service that should be covered regardless of where they work.

Tell President Obama to give all women access to contraception without co-pays.

For many years, the National Women’s Law Center has been working to get contraception covered in all health insurance plans, and we won’t stop now! This summer over 60,000 of you joined our effort to say: birth control — we got you covered! We need your help again to ensure that ALL women have access to affordable contraceptiontell President Obama to give ALL women access to contraception without co-pays

Tell Obama to Protect Birth Control!

by Maureen Shaw, sherights

Obama ran as a pro-woman presidential candidate. Now we will see whether it was all lip service or if he will stand up for women’s health.

Despite the fact that birth control constitutes “preventive care” under the Affordable Care Act — meaning it is covered at no cost by insurance plans — it looks as though Obama may expand the religious conscience clause concerning contraceptives. Catholic Bishops have been pressuring the Administration to do just this, which would allow religiously affiliated institutions that are not churches—such as hospitals, universities, and others—to refuse to cover birth control without co-pays for their students and employees.

This is not a surprising move on behalf of Catholic Bishops. What’s more surprising is how out of touch the Catholic hierarchy is with the lay Catholic population. According to Catholics for Choice, over 98% of sexually active Catholic women use birth control. Furthermore, 63% of Catholics believe that health insurance, whether private or government-run, should cover contraception. Right on.

Not to sound like a broken record, but religion has NO place in politics or health care whatsoever — especially a religion that has such little regard for women’s health and rights.

Do women a solid and call the White House to tell him to stand strong with us. He must not cave to extremist, religious pressures. Expanding refusal clauses to allow certain institutions and universities to refuse coverage for contraception is not what we want as a part of healthcare reform.

Cross posted from SheRights

Washington Post’s Gerson Ignores Catholics’ Opinions To Accuse The Obama Administration Of “Anti-Catholic Bias”

Cross posted from Media Matters

In a Washington Postcolumn, Michael Gerson accused the Obama administration of “systematic anti-Catholic bias,” pointing to its decision to end funding for anti-sex trafficking programs run by Catholic bishops that do not refer women who have been raped for abortions. In fact, large majorities of Catholics support allowing women who have been raped to have access to abortion.

Gerson Attacked The Obama Administration For Decision Not To Fund Bishops’ Anti-Sex Trafficking Programs

Gerson: Will Catholics In The Obama Administration “Betray Their Co-Religionists?” From Gerson’s November 14 column, headlined “Obama turns his back on Catholics”:

[T]he conscience protections of Catholics are under assault, particularly by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). And Obama’s Catholic strategy is in shambles.

Shortly before Obama spoke at Notre Dame, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts brought suit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), seeking to eliminate a grant to programs that aid victims of human trafficking. Because Catholic programs don’t refer for abortions, the ACLU alleged that public support amounts to the establishment of religion.

The Obama Justice Department defended the grant in court. But last month, HHS abruptly ended the funding. It did not matter that an independent review board had rated the bishops’ program more effective than those of its competitors — or that career HHS employees objected to the politicized handling of the grant. HHS announced it was giving preference to grantees that offer “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.” This was described by one official as “standard procedure.” So it is now standard procedure in the Obama administration to deny funding to some Catholic programs based solely on their pro-life beliefs.

[...]

Broadly applied, the HHS policy would amount to systemic anti-Catholic bias in government programs.

[...]

How will the White House respond? More specifically, how will the Catholic chief of staff and America’s first Catholic vice president respond? They gave up their own adherence to Catholic teaching on abortion long ago. But are they really prepared to betray their co-religionists who still hold these beliefs? [The Washington Post, 11/14/11]

The Bishops’ Anti-Sex Trafficking Programs Do Not Refer Trafficking Victims For Abortion …

The Bishops’ Organization “Would Not Refer Women Directly” For Reproductive Services, And “Refused To Reimburse The Subcontractors With Federal Dollars.” From an October 31 Washington Post article:

The ACLU, in the lawsuit it filed in U.S. District Court in Boston in 2009, argued that many women are raped by their traffickers and don’t speak English, making it hard for them to find reproductive services without help.

While the bishops’ organization would not refer women directly, it allowed subcontractors to arrange for the services, but it refused to reimburse the subcontractors with federal dollars. [The Washington Post, 10/31/11]

… But A Study Found That Trafficking Victims Are Often Sexually Assaulted …

Nine Out Of Ten Women Have Been “Physically Forced Or Intimidated Into Sex Or Doing Something Sexual.” From a 2006 study conducted by The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, titled “Stolen smiles: a summary report on the physical and psychological health consequences of women and adolescents trafficked in Europe”:

Nearly all women (95%) reported physical or sexual violence, with three-quarters of respondents having been physically hurt, and 90% reporting having been sexually assaulted.

[...]

Women were asked if they were physically forced or coerced by fear or threats to have sex or do something sexual. Nine out of ten women in this study (90%) reported having been physically forced or intimidated into sex or doing something sexual. The majority of women who reported being coerced into sex (83%) were also physically forced (92%). [The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 2006]

The study included the following chart:

[The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 2006]

Recommendations Of The Study: “Respect Women’s Reproductive Rights By Offering Access To Safe Abortion Services.” Recommendations for health service providers and organizations providing services to trafficked women from the 2006 study by The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine:

3. Provide physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health support adapted from models of good practice used for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and torture, also relying on good practice guidelines for minority communities and refugees.

4. Respect women’s sexual and reproductive health rights by offering access to safe abortion services, counselling (sic) for voluntary HIV testing, anti-retroviral drugs, and post-prophylaxis, as required. [The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 2006]

… And American Catholics Think Rape Victims Should Have Access To Abortions

Poll: 78 Percent Of Catholics Think Women Should Be Able To Obtain An Abortion When A Pregnancy Is The Result Of Rape. From A Catholics for Choice pamphlet, titled “The Facts Tell the Story”:

86% of Catholics approve of abortion when a woman’s health is seriously endangered, and 78% think it should be possible for a woman to obtain an abortion when a pregnancy is the result of rape. (GSS 2008) [Catholics for Choice, 2011]

Gerson Also Attacked The Obama Administration For Potentially Requiring Catholic Employers To Provide Birth Control Coverage ….

Gerson: Proposal To Require Employers To Cover Contraception Is A “Provocation” Against Catholics. From Gerson’s November 14 column:

Broadly applied, the HHS policy would amount to systemic anti-Catholic bias in government programs. And the provocation is one in a series. HHS has drawn conscience protections so narrowly that Catholic colleges, universities and hospitals — any Catholic institution that employs and serves non-Catholics — will be required to offer health coverage that includes contraception and drugs that cause abortion. [The Washington Post, 11/14/11]

… But Catholics Also Support Health Insurance Coverage For Contraception

Survey: 63 Percent Of Catholic Voters Support Health Insurance Coverage For Contraception And The Use Of Condoms To Prevent HIV/AIDS. A September 2009 national opinion survey of Catholic voters found that when asked, “Do you think health insurance policies — whether they are private or government — should cover … [c]ontraception, such as birth control pills,” 63 percent said yes. [Belden Russonello & Stewart, September 2009]

Is Obama Caving to Bishops out of Misplaced “Gratitude”?

by

According to an inside scoop from RHReality Check, President Obama is leaning toward bowing to pressure from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to exempt religiously affiliated organizations from mandatory birth control coverage. This would mean that organizations that aren’t actual churches–such as colleges, universities and hospitals–would get out of covering birth control in insurance plans for their students and employees. (This despite the fact that many, if not most, of those students and employees aren’t Catholic. And that HHS has deemed birth control essential preventive care. And that 77 percent of Catholic women want their birth control covered.)

Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check has received an unconfirmed tip that the President is tempted to side with the Bishops out of “gratitude” for their help in passing the Affordable Care Act. Jacobson rightly points out that if the president should be grateful this Thanksgiving to anyone for the passage of health care reform, it’s women:

[G]roups representing many millions of women throughout the country worked tirelessly–exhaustively–for well over a year to support the President’s health reform initiative.  They did this even when women lost benefits in the process, supporting the President and able in the end to point at least to gains in coverage of fundamental preventive care such as birth control without a co-pay as a victory.

However, Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches reports that, according to her sources, no decision has yet been made.

We’re guessing the decision may announced on Friday–aka “take out the trash day“–in order to avoid blowback from both sides.

Let the White House know what you think while there’s still time: Birth control is preventive care and should be covered with no copay by all insurance plans, including those administered by people of faith.

Photo from Flickr user Aflcio under Creative Commons 2.0.

Cross posted from the Ms. Magazine blog

Calling On President Obama to Demonstrate His Respect for Women

by Amy Allina

President Obama likes to talk about the fact that he lives in a household of strong women.  When he does it, he seems genuinely pleased and proud to be able to talk about his daughters, his wife and his mother-in-law in those terms.  And as a feminist, it makes me happy that we have a president who respects women and takes pride in his association with strong women.

But I’m hearing rumors lately that the president may be about to announce a decision that fundamentally disrespects women.  Instead of standing strong in defense of contraceptive coverage – a provision of health reform that will help to make the promise of affordable access to the health care we need real for millions of women – the White House may be about to strip that promise away from some women.

It’s not just women’s health advocates, like me, who think that contraceptive coverage is good policy.  Medical experts from the Institute of Medicine reviewed the evidence and concluded that contraception is a proven and essential preventive health service for women.  Public opinion research shows that most people agree that insurance companies and employers should cover contraception without co-pays.

But there’s a narrow minority of religious leaders who don’t agree, and they’re pulling out all the stops to put pressure on the White House to let some employers play by different rules, denying women who work for those employers the coverage they need to lead healthy reproductive lives.  The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is calling for a broad exemption from the contraceptive coverage policy that would give employers the right to make health care decisions for the women who work for them.  That’s not respecting women – and it’s not what we expect from President Obama!

The consequences of allowing religiously affiliated employers to deny contraceptive coverage have become painfully apparent in some states in recent years. The president should listen to the voices of the women who have had to live with the results.

In Muskegon, MI, employees of secular Hackley Hospital lost their contraceptive coverage when the hospital became part of a Catholic healthcare system.  One nurse described the burden and anxiety that the coverage exclusion imposed on her family, and the desperate need they feel for help:

“We are just praying I don’t get pregnant until we can figure out how to get something. … My third pregnancy I lost twins. … I can’t go through more. It’s taken a toll on my marriage.”

Another woman noted that although the policy respects the religious view of her employer, it fails to respect her own views:

“If I have health insurance,” she said, “I should get birth control . . . why should I have to follow what they believe?”

The broader religious employer exemption being proposed would replicate these women’s experiences, nationwide.  President Obama, we’re calling on you to show your respect for ALL women – please, stand up for the contraceptive coverage policy that respects our right to make our own decisions about contraception.

Cross posted from Raising Women’s Voices