September 23, 2011
Opponents of women's access to contraception have stepped up pressure on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand an exemption allowing some religious institutions to deny birth control insurance coverage to their employees. This exemption should not have been included in the HHS rules in the first place. But religious extremists are lobbying hard to convince HHS to completely remove the requirement for full insurance coverage of contraception from the new regulations. This would be a huge loss for women.
Take action NOW: Write your own comment or use NOW's sample comment below by cutting and pasting it into the appropriate space on the government regulations website. The deadline for comments is Sept. 30, so act NOW! Additional information is provided in the background section below.
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
I strongly urge you to make every effort to eliminate the imposition of an exemption for religious institutions in the HHS interim final rule on preventive health services [CMS-9992-IFC2] as it relates to insurance coverage for contraceptive services. The thousands of women who happen to work for Catholic and other religious institutions should not be disadvantaged by the federal government bending to a tiny minority of male church leaders who do not represent the views of a majority of the laity. Some 98 percent of sexually-active Catholic women utilize modern contraception and 68 percent support insurance coverage for contraception.
Birth control is basic health care for all women, and the federal government should not permit a solitary religious viewpoint to override good public health policy. Allowing certain faith-based organizations to avoid this statute is, in fact, promoting the private interests of a tiny religious minority. This exemption and all other refusal or conscience clauses infringe upon women's constitutional right to freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Religious as well as non-religious employees deserve equal access to contraceptive coverage. The federal government has the responsibility to ensure that all women who desire contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act are guaranteed access. I hope that HHS will see the importance of this assurance and remove the exemption from the interim final rule (Docket I.D.= HHS-OS-2011-0023-0002).
Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) accepted a package of recommendations from the Institute of Medicine to require insurance coverage for contraceptive services and counseling, with no additional costs like co-payments or deductibles, as part of women's preventive health services when the new health exchanges are launched in 2014. The department is about to finalize an amendment to the interim final regulation [CMS-992-IFC2] that will make provision of this coverage mandatory, albeit with an exemption -- which NOW vigorously opposed -- for some religious institutions.
We recently learned that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has submitted a statement to HHS that the proposed exemption is too narrowly defined for some religious institutions and that the contraception coverage requirement should be eliminated completely. We are concerned that the USCCB and their extremist allies will be successful in persuading the department to expand the exemption -- or worse, back off entirely from requiring birth control coverage through health insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act.
While commending HHS for including contraception coverage, NOW President Terry O'Neill nonetheless criticized the exemption by stating, "no woman should be denied health care as basic as contraception, not even a woman who happens to work for a religious institution. It would be a tragedy if millions of women were denied affordable access to contraception because HHS is ready to give in to a tiny minority of religious extremists who oppose birth control."
Employees should not be disadvantaged because of the religious beliefs held by their employers. Affordable access is an important policy objective that advances a women's economic and education opportunities. The bishops claim to be advocating against contraceptive coverage on behalf of all Catholics, even though the majority of Catholics support access to family planning. Ninety-eight percent of sexually-active Catholic women have used some sort of modern method of birth control and 68 percent of Catholic voters support health insurance coverage for contraception, including birth control pills.
Please send a message to the Department of Health and Human Services that no exemption should be provided to any religious institution and that all women eligible for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act should have coverage for contraceptive services and counseling, among many other important women's preventive health services.
Take action NOW!
To read NOW's comments sent to HHS:
For more information about the Women's Preventive Health Care guidelines: