The National Women’s Law Center Takes a Position on Contraceptive Coverage & “Extreme” Legislation

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

It appears that the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Republicans are not happy with the change that President Obama made to the health care contraceptive coverage requirement for religious employers. The President’s announcement about the change yesterday initially met with a “reserved response” from the bishops who said it was a “first step in the right direction.” Hours later, however, the bishops issued a statement “blasting the plan.” Along with others, the bishops are calling for Congressional legislation that would reverse the contraceptive policy.

In a blog post earlier today, Judy Waxman, who is Vice President for Health and Reproductive Right at the National Women’s Law Center, expressed her concern about some of the proposed legislation. Waxman wrote that “opponents of birth control in Congress are still focused on taking away access to contraception introducing extreme legislation that threatens health across the board. The pieces of legislation range from allowing any employer, regardless of whether it is a religious entity, to deny coverage of contraception to giving employers the right to refuse coverage of any health care service they find religiously or morally objectionable.”

Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress echoed Waxman’s concern. He reported that Senator Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, is expected to introduce an amendment next week “that would permit any employer or insurance plan to exclude any health service, no matter how essential, from coverage if they morally object to it.

Excerpt from Blunt’s proposed amendment:


“(A) FOR HEALTH PLANS. — A health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package described in subsection (a) (or preventive health services described in section 2713 of the Public Health Services Act), to fail to be a qualified health plan, or to fail to fulfill any other requirement under this title on the basis that it declines to provide coverage of specific items or services because —

“(i) providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or

“(ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.

Waxman also wrote the following in her post:

They are playing politics with women’s health – and it would hurt everyone. Tell your Senators to reject all extreme legislation that would take away women’s access to birth control without a co-pay, and other needed health care.

What would happen if some of these bills became law?

  • Any employer could offer a plan that does not cover maternity care for unmarried women in its plan, claiming that such coverage violates its belief that sex and procreation are permissible only within the marital relationship. (Amendment No. 1520 sponsored by Senator Blunt, R-MO, also known as the “Blunt Amendment”/H.R. 1179)
  • Any corporation whose CEO opposes contraception based on his “moral convictions” could deny all coverage of contraception or any other service to the company’s employees. Even more disturbing, a CEO’s view of “morality” could potentially include concern for the cost of a particular benefit. (S. 2092, also known as “The Manchin-Rubio Bill” and the “Blunt Amendment”/H.R. 1179)
  • Any employer who objects to coverage of vaccines for children could deny this coverage to all employees. (The “Blunt Amendment”/H.R. 1179)

Do you agree with Waxman that some people are playing politics with women’s health? Do you think our Senators should be called upon to reject–what Waxman calls–“extreme” legislation?


I’d like to note that birth control pills can be used to treat some medical conditions—including endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, adenomyosis, dysmenorrhea, and acne. Birth control pills can also lower a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer—as well as some other kinds of cancers—if she takes the pills for more than five years.

FYI: Last December, Alice Park penned an article for Time’s Healthland titled Should Nuns Take the Pill to Prevent Cancer?

Park wrote:

Kara Britt at Monash University and Roger Short of the University of Melbourne, writing in the journal Lancet, argue that the scientific evidence is strong enough to consider whether nuns, who do not bear children — a lifestyle that puts them at higher risk of certain reproductive cancers — could be protected by taking the birth control pill.

The article in the Lancet claimed that Roman Catholic nuns pay a “terrible price for their chastity” because not having children puts them at a higher risk of growing breast, ovarian and, uterine tumors.


GOP Ups The Ante, Introduces Legislation To Allow Any Employer To Deny Any Preventive Health Service (ThinkProgress)

Roy Blunt Amendment (ThinkProgress)

Protect Women’s Health: Tell Your Senators to Reject Extreme Legislation (National Women’s Law Center)

Blunt expected to intro bill on contraception coverage (St. Louis Business Journal)

Senator Blunt’s Response To President Obama’s Remarks On HHS Mandate

GOP Sen. Roy Blunt to introduce bill allowing employers to deny coverage for any health service (Daily Kos)

Groups rail against contraceptive coverage ‘mandate’ despite rule change (My Fox Philly)

Bishops Renew Call to Legislative Action on Religious Liberty (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Should Nuns Take the Pill to Prevent Cancer? (Time/Heathland)

Nuns On Birth Control? Experts Say The Pill May Reduce Health Risks Posed By Chaste Lifestyle (Huffington Post)

Nuns should go on the Pill, says Lancet study: Nuns should go on the Pill to reduce their chances of developing cancer, researchers say (The Telegraph)

Combined oral contraceptive pill (Wkipedia)

129 thoughts on “The National Women’s Law Center Takes a Position on Contraceptive Coverage & “Extreme” Legislation”

  1. The very next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t disappoint me just as much as this particular one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read through, however I genuinely thought you would have something useful to say. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something that you could fix if you weren’t too busy looking for attention.

  2. Pharmacists In Kansas Can Now Deny Women Access To Birth Control
    By Amanda Peterson Beadle on May 16, 2012

    Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a bill yesterday that will allow pharmacists in the state to refuse to fill a prescription they think could be used to induce abortion. But since the “conscience” measure says they cannot be required to provide a drug or devise that they think “may result in the termination of a pregnancy” — but does not define which drug in particular — the law’s opponents say it could allow a pharmacist to interfere with a woman’s health care by refusing to distribute birth control or emergency contraception.

    Women who already have difficulty obtaining contraception may face additional hurdles, according to Julie Burkhart, founder of an abortion-rights group in Wichita, Kansas:

    Burkhart said the law could create a hardship for women in small towns with a sole pharmacist who may refuse to fill certain prescriptions. In larger cities, women will have to make sure they go to a cooperative pharmacist, she added.

    “Women should not have to go armed with a lot of research when looking for a physician or pharmacist in the community,” Burkhart said.

  3. I can’t believe the ignorance of the overbearing statists that I read in the comments above. Nobody is trying to take your contraceptives away. They can and will always be found at CVS, Walmart and thousands of other outlets in this country. If you can’t afford them, go to Planned Parenthood or the thousands of clinics that dot the US landscape.

    But don’t put a gun to the head of employers, The Catholic Church or anyone who has moral reservations about contraceptives and force them to finance insurance that include a contraceptive provision. If you don’t like it you have many options. You can change jobs and find a company whose insurance provides contraceptive coverage. You can buy it on your own. You can find a charity that provides free contraception.

    However, please keep your hands out of my wallet.

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  5. Catholic Voters Break With Church Over Contraception Coverage | Catholic voters are breaking with the Church’s opposition to insurance coverage of contraception, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll finds. Sixty-five percent of voters — including a majority of Catholics — “said they supported the Obama administration’s requirement that health insurance plans cover the cost of birth control, and 59 percent, said the health insurance plans of religiously affiliated employers should cover the cost of birth control.” A Public Policy Polling survey conducted on Friday similarly found that 57 percent of Catholic voters — and 59 percent of Catholic women — support the requirement. Under the administration’s policy, “women who work for institutions like Catholic hospitals and universities can obtain birth control from their insurance company without a co-pay, but their employers don’t have to include contraception in their healthcare plans.”

  6. Democratic Women Slam GOP’s Radical Contraception Amendment, Claim It ‘Opens Door To Discrimination’
    By Igor Volsky on Feb 15, 2012

    High-profile Democratic women are hitting back against the GOP’s opposition to the Obama administration’s new rule requiring insurers and employers to offer contraception in their health care benefit plans. Obama exempts houses of worship and nonprofits that primarily employ people of the same faith from covering birth control, while religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges can also eschew the benefit. Their employees would obtain the coverage — at no additional cost sharing — directly from the insurer.

    Today, the Senate will hold a vote on a Republican substitute introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), which would allow any and all insurers and employers to deny their employees health benefits and services required by federal law based on their personal religious or moral objections. The measure has 37 co-sponsors — including the GOP leadership, women Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Democrat Ben Nelson (NE), and Republican Scott Brown (MA). Brown has supported expansive conscience protections for religious organizations throughout his legislative career, but voted for a tougher contraception mandate as a Massachusetts state representative in 2002 and approved of a law requiring all hospitals — including Catholic institutions — to provide emergency contraception to rape victims in 2005.

    After defending Obama’s rule last year, Democrats are now on the offensive. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have derided Blunt’s measure as “extreme” and “dangerous,” claiming that “It puts politics between women and their healthcare.” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) warned, “This would gut the protections that were established in the Affordable Care Act and open a Pandora’s box that allows employers to deny coverage for virtually anything they might object to” and yesterday, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that amendment would permit insurers or employers to discriminate against women:

    “I am shocked that Senator Brown jumped in to support such an extreme measure,” Warren told me by phone just now. “This is an all new attack on health care. Any insurance company could leave anyone without health care, just when they need it most.” […]

    “This is an extreme attack on every one of us,” Warren said. “It opens the door to outright discrimination. It would let insurance companies and corporations cut off pregnant women, overweight guys, older Americans, or anyone — because some executive claims it’s part of his moral code. Maybe that wouldn’t happen, but I don’t want to take the chance.”

    Indeed, under the measure, an insurer or an employer would be able to claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an “unhealthy” or “immoral” lifestyle. Similarly, a health plan could refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that the plan believes that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer.

  7. Why the Birth Control Mandate Is Not About “Freedom of Conscience”
    by Vyckie Garrison

    I’ve been hearing a lot about how requiring organizations to offer health insurance that includes birth control is a violation of “freedom of conscience.” That’s the same logic that was used to justify pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control. (I opposed the latter idea because of its hypocrisy: the Religious Right tells women that if they don’t want to be pregnant, they can choose not to have sex. I would counter that if a person doesn’t want to dispense birth control, he or she can choose not to be a pharmacist.) This time, however, the “freedom of conscience” logic does not work at all.

    The “controversy” (which is a kind way of saying “the ruckus kicked up by the Religious Right”) is about denying “freedom of conscience” to organizations. Not people. Specifically, not women. Since when did organizations have consciences? The members of their boards of executives might have consciences, and they might agree on some things, but they emphatically cannot speak for every member or every employee of their organization.

    The loudest voice in the fray currently belongs to the Catholic Church. Cries have gone up that the Church should not be forced to “compromise its principles” by covering birth control as part of their insurance package. But whose principles are these? A majority of Catholic women were using the pill as early as 1970. A recent report from the Guttmacher Institute (which is contested by Catholic bishops) estimates that 98 percent of “sexually-experienced” Catholic women use or have used the pill. If the opposition were really about “freedom of conscience,” you’d expect to find different statistics.

    The truth is, this “controversy” is about the exact opposite of “freedom of conscience.” It’s about denying freedom of conscience to religious women. The Church and the other organizations supporting it are desperately afraid that if they give women access to birth control, they will break down the doors of CVS to get it. The US Council of Catholic Bishops made the following argument:

    “[The Guttmacher stat] is irrelevant, and it is presented in a misleading way,” the group said in a statement. “If a survey found that 98 percent of people had lied, cheated on their taxes, or had sex outside of marriage, would the government claim it can force everyone to do so?”

    Except the government isn’t forcing women to take birth control. It’s forcing religious organizations to let women choose whether to take birth control. If the religious organizations in question had faith in their members’ convictions, they would not be worried about paying for something they disagree with because they would trust women not to use it. This so-called controversy is about religious officials taking away women’s freedom of conscience and giving it to the Church. “Freedom of conscience” is code for “the right to enforce conformity amongst religious women.” Actual freedom is about having a choice. The Church and its supporters want to monopolize freedom and choice for themselves while taking those things away from their employees and congregations.

    Not to mention where this leaves poor women who aren’t Catholic, but just happen to work at Catholic hospitals or charities because there’s no other work in their area. Forcing people who don’t even profess the same faith as you do to live by your rules is most definitely the opposite of “freedom of conscience.”

    If this were really about freedom of conscience, it would be a non-issue. Women whose consciences are not bothered by birth control would be able to practice their faith according to their own relationships with God. Women who accept the Church’s teachings would similarly avoid birth control. This is about religious officials’ fear of losing control, fear that their beliefs don’t match those of their congregations, fear that people will wantonly surge toward sinful abandon if not reined in by financial constraints. It’s authoritarianism cloaked in hypocrisy.

  8. US bishops plan aggressive expansion of birth-control battle
    By Stephanie Simon
    Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:19pm EST

    Feb 14 (Reuters) – Catholic bishops, energized by a battle over contraception funding, are planning an aggressive campaign to rally Americans against a long list of government measures which they say intrude on religious liberty.

    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops plans to work with other religious groups, including evangelical Christians, on an election-year public relations campaign that may include TV and radio ads, social media marketing and a push for pastors and priests to raise the subject from the pulpit.

    “We want to make it something that will get peoples’ attention,” said Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn.

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