HHS takes final steps toward near-universal contraception coverage
Reproductive rights groups are applauding the latest announcement by the Obama administration of proposed policies aimed at providing contraceptive coverage to women employed by religious organizations. NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher institute and other organizations have enthusiastically greeted the news that under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, steps are being taken to remove the onus of providing contraceptive coverage from employers in instances where providing such coverage would violate religious principles.
“This is very much what the administration spelled out a year ago,” said Adam Sonfield, a Senior Public Policy Associated at the Guttmacher Institute, an international nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of sexual and reproductive health. In an interview with Raw Story on Friday, he said, “There is a religious exemption for churches and other purely religious organizations. There’s also an accommodation for a broader range of nonprofit organizations that put themselves out as being religious.”
The new proposals, said Sonfield, “set up a mechanism so make the accommodation work so that that employers don’t have to touch contraception in any way. They won’t have to contract for it. They won’t have to talk to their employees about it. They won’t have to pay for it.”
Instead, a “third-party issuer” will handle issues related to birth control and contraceptives. Sonfield emphasized that for the employees, this coverage will be “seamless and automatic,” by dint of a “small, separate policy,” usually with their own insurer, dedicated solely to contraceptive coverage.
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue released a statement praising the administration.
“Today’s draft regulation affirms yet again the Obama administration’s commitment to fulfilling the full promise of its historic contraception policy,” said Hogue. “Thanks to this commitment, most American women will get birth-control coverage without extra expense. Increased access to birth control is a huge win for women and is necessary to prevent unintended pregnancy–a goal on which both pro-choice and anti-choice people ought to agree.”
A statement from Planned Parenthood for America read, in part, “This policy delivers on the promise of women having access to birth control without co-pays no matter where they work. Of course, we are reviewing the technical aspects of this proposal, but the principle is clear and consistent. This policy makes it clear that your boss does not get to decide whether you can have birth control.”
UltraViolet, an online community of women and men dedicated to fighting sexism in the public sector also greeted the new policy proposals warmly. Co-Founder Nita Chaudhary said in a statement, “Our 375,000 members in every state and congressional district are thrilled that the Obama Administration is finalizing no-cost contraception for women under the Affordable Care Act. In a country where 99 percent of women will use birth control at some point in their lives, and where one out of every three will have trouble affording it, this rule has the potential to revolutionize women’s health and our economic security.”
Some religious pressure groups like the Catholic Association and the Southern Poverty Law Center-dubbed “hate group,” the Family Research Council have raised objections to the plan. FRC spokesperson Anna Higgins said, “The accounting gimmicks HHS is now proposing under the latest regulation fail to satisfy the religious freedom protections that exist in other current laws and in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Friday, however, “Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns. We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women’s organizations, insurers and others to achieve these goals.”