Religious conservatives have lost their fight to exempt church-affiliated organizations from a new rule requiring contraception coverage be provided free of charge as part of the Obama administration's health care overhaul. The organizations will get another year to comply with the rule, which goes into effect for everyone else on Aug. 1, 2012. Given that the vast majority of women use or have used birth control, the impact of the administration's decision is considerable. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced
Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. Employers wishing to take advantage of the additional year must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation. This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule. We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.
Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women. This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.
Given the way that adding insurance coverage works, the majority of women will be able to receive free birth control starting Jan. 1, 2013. But for those working for church-affiliated groups who choose to go with the administration-approved delay, that coverage will start Jan. 1, 2014.
Churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship are already exempted from providing birth-control coverage. But conservatives had sought to extend the exemption to religiously affiliated hospitals and universities. In November, it appeared that the administration might be considering broadening the exemption, so today's announcement is certain to disappoint those who think it's okay to impose their religious beliefs on those whose paychecks they sign.
For the reproductive rights community, however, it is good news. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said:
“All women should have access to contraceptive coverage, regardless of where they work. The administration stood firm against intensive lobbying efforts from anti-birth-control organizations trying to expand the refusal option even further to allow organizations and corporations to deny their employees contraceptive coverage. As a result, millions will get access to contraception—and they will not have to ask their bosses for permission.” [...]
“Birth control is basic health care for women, and 98 percent of women use birth control at some point in their lives. Today’s decision stands in stark contrast with the anti-choice presidential candidates’ positions on birth control. We will make sure voters understand the difference.”
After a year of suffering heavy losses in the reproductive rights arena as states enacted more than 80 pieces of anti-abortion and related legislation, it's refreshing to see this setback for the right-wingers. But we can be assured they will never cease their war against freedom of choice, which is, at root, a war on sex, most especially the sexual behavior of women since they are the ones who pay the biggest price for attacks on birth control and abortion rights.