In what women's health advocates called a "historic advance for both health care and equality," the Obama administration on Friday proposed a change to the Affordable Health Care Act that would allow churches and religious organizations to exclude birth control from health insurance for their employees, but would still guarantee those employees access to free coverage for contraceptives.
The change would ensure that women could access birth control without a co-pay as part of basic health care.
“Birth control is a basic and essential component of women’s preventive health care," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. "Women have been fighting for access to birth control for decades, and this is a historic advance for both health care and equality."
The proposal follows months of protest and legal action by the Roman Catholic Church and other groups who said Obama's health care law forced them to violate religious principles.
The New York Times reports:
Under the proposal, female employees could get free birth control coverage through a separate plan that would be provided by a health insurer. The institution objecting to the coverage would not pay for the contraceptives. The costs would instead be paid by the insurance company, with the possibility of recouping the costs through lower health care expenses resulting in part from fewer birth.
The administration on Friday proposed a complicated arrangement to finance contraceptive coverage for employees of religious organizations that serve as their own insurers. The federal government would require health insurance companies to defray the cost indirectly, by paying higher fees for the privilege of selling health insurance to millions of Americans in new online markets run by the federal government.
Richards said her organization continues to review the proposal's technical aspects, but noted, "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 ... Birth control is a basic and essential component of women’s preventive health care. Women have been fighting for access to birth control for decades, and this is a historic advance for both health care and equality"
Sarah Lipton-Lubet, ACLU policy counsel, said in a statement:
Over the last year, we’ve seen a disturbing number of instances where employers are trying to impose their religious beliefs on a diverse workforce that does not share them, and opponents of the law have made it clear that they won’t rest until no insurance plan, whatever the source, is required to cover contraception. We look forward to continuing to work with the Obama administration to make sure that every woman has access to affordable birth control.
“Our ultimate goal is to improve the lives of all women by providing them the freedom to choose when and whether to have children,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement. “We will watch closely as the policy is implemented by health plans in the coming months to ensure this regulation will do just that.
Nancy Northrup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said "the Obama Administration has once again made it clear that it is committed to advancing women’s health by making copay-free contraception a reality for millions of women in the United States."
However, she continued, "We continue to believe that contraception should not be separated from the rest of women’s health insurance coverage. Women should not be forced to jump through additional hoops to get basic preventive health care simply because their employer disapproves of birth control."