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. “It’s well known that Paul, like the other remaining GOP presidential contenders, is no fan of abortion or gay people. But the issue of contraception access is one that has not received nearly as much attention.”


    Thank you for giving this attention. While Libertarians flock to Paul he is a confused Libertarian, at best, with either a selective memory of US history, or a duplicitous message. While denying the Federal Government’s ability to deal with issues of equality, he is all for them being dealt with at a State level. In his universe the individual States have the right to be as oppressive as they wish.
    To decry government intervention in people’s rights nationally, but agree that locally they have the right to intervene, is not only illogical from a Libertarian viewpoint but actually dangerously disingenuous. As we remember that two-faced belief is what allowed Jim Crow to thrive in this country.

    The notion that government is better on a State level, rather than Federal level, because it’s closer to the people is both counter-factual and hypocritical. It was these contradictions in Paul, that aroused my initial distrust, which has been born out by the ever growing proof of his hypocrisy.

  2. The National Council of Catholic Bishops is making the same mistake we have seen with Republican dominated state legislatures over the past three years-overreaching. And I predict that it will create a similar backlash.

  3. Ron Paul vs. Birth Control
    Paul has sponsored legislation that would gut the Supreme Court decision that made birth control legal.
    By Kate Sheppard
    Tue Feb. 14, 2012

    Last year, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul introduced a bill in Congress that would allow states to ban contraception if they choose.

    Paul’s “We the People Act,” which he introduced in 2004, 2005, 2009, and 2011, explicitly forbids federal courts and the Supreme Court of the United States from ruling on the constitutionality of a variety of state and local laws. That includes, among other things, “any claim based upon the right of privacy, including any such claim related to any issue of sexual practices, orientation, or reproduction.” The bill would let states write laws forbidding abortion, the use of contraceptives, or consensual gay sex, for example.

    If passed, Paul’s bill could undermine the most important Supreme Court case dealing with contraception—1965’s Griswold v. Connecticut. In that case, the high court found that a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of contraception was unconstitutional based on a “right to marital privacy” afforded by the Bill of Rights. In other words, the court declared that states cannot interfere with what happens between the sheets when it comes to reproduction.

    Paul’s bill would also keep the federal courts out of cases like Roe v. Wade and 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas, in which the justices found that privacy is a guaranteed right concerning sexual practices and struck down Texas’ anti-sodomy law as unconstitutional.

    It’s well known that Paul, like the other remaining GOP presidential contenders, is no fan of abortion or gay people. But the issue of contraception access is one that has not received nearly as much attention.

  4. The GOP Plan To Give Your Boss “Moral” Control Over Your Health Insurance
    Republicans now want to give CEOs the power to do away with any medical benefits they dislike.
    By Adam Serwer
    Tue Feb. 14, 2012

    In their latest move in the battle over contraception coverage, top Republicans in Congress are going for broke: They’re now pushing a bill that would allow employers and insurance companies to pick and choose which health benefits to provide based simply on executives’ personal moral beliefs. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the top GOPer in the Senate, has already endorsed the proposal, and it could come to a vote this week. The measure would make the religious exemptions to President Barack Obama’s health care bill so large they’d swallow it whole.

    “This is about gutting the Affordable Care Act, and the protections it was meant to establish,” says Leila Abolfazli, a lawyer focusing at the National Women’s Law Center who focuses on health and reproductive rights.

    Obama’s Affordable Care Act requires all health care plans to offer certain services and benefits, including birth control. Last week, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) offered a “conscience amendment,” to the law, pitching it as a way to allay religious employers’ qualms about providing birth control to their employees.

    But Blunt’s proposal doesn’t just apply to religious employers and birth control. Instead, it would allow any insurer or employer, religiously affiliated or otherwise, to opt out of providing any health care services required by federal law—everything from maternity care to screening for diabetes. Employers wouldn’t have to cite religious reasons for their decision; they could just say the treatment goes against their moral convictions. That exception could include almost anything—an employer could theoretically claim a “moral objection” to the cost of providing a given benefit. The bill would also allow employers to sue if state or federal regulators try to make them comply with the law.

    If Republican leaders get their way and Blunt’s bill becomes law, a boss who regarded overweight people and smokers with moral disgust could exclude coverage of obesity and tobacco screening from his employees’ health plans. A Scientologist employer could deny its employees depression screening because Scientologists believe psychiatry is morally objectionable. A management team that thought HIV victims brought the disease upon themselves could excise HIV screening from its employees’ insurance coverage. Your boss’ personal prejudices, not science or medical expertise, would determine which procedures your insurance would cover for you and your kids.

  5. Catholic Bishops’ Contraception Coverage Argument Ridiculed By Pacifist Activists
    By Zach Carter

    WASHINGTON — High-profile Republicans and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have decried the Obama administration’s new contraception coverage rule as a violation of religious liberty, claiming the Constitution protects believers from financing activities that conflict with their faith. Join the club, say American pacifists.

    For as long as the United States has been declaring war, there have been Americans who object to the use of violence on religious or moral grounds. Entire faiths are explicitly devoted to the total rejection of war: Quakers, Mennonites and many Pentacostal traditions, to name a few. Millions of members of other religions interpret the Sixth Commandment — “thou shalt not kill” — as a full ban on warfare. These people all still have to pay taxes, a tremendous percentage of which go to financing not only war, but capital punishment, a sometimes brutal prison system and the use of violence by police forces. The U.S. government has not found their religious views to be a valid exemption from citizens’ tax responsibilities.

    Many First Amendment scholars find the Catholic bishops’ argument to be weak.

    “There is absolutely no religious liberty infringement in requiring insurance companies to cover contraception,” said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The birth control rule is what we call in First Amendment analysis a ‘generally applicable and neutral law.’ ‘Generally applicable,’ means it applies to everybody. And it’s neutral — it doesn’t target any specific faith. So if a law is generally applicable and neutral, it’s not a First Amendment violation. It’s basic, elementary First Amendment law.”

  6. White House attacks contraception bills

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Monday legislation in the Senate that would give employers broad leeway to restrict coverage for contraception is “dangerous and wrong.”

    Press secretary Jay Carney took aim at legislation by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. – a possible GOP vice presidential candidate – and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that would allow any employer to deny birth control coverage if it runs counter to their religious or moral beliefs.

    Another bill, by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would go even further by allowing health plans to deny coverage for any service that violates their beliefs.

  7. New Hampshire Republicans Slam President Obama Birth Control Rule, Ignoring Their Own

    One side effect of the outpouring of Republican outrage over President Barack Obama’s new birth control insurance coverage rule is that some GOP lawmakers have been forced to acknowledge the same policies in their own states — some without religious exemptions.

    New Hampshire illustrates the GOP problem. State House Speaker William O’Brien (R) introduced a resolution Friday urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to rescind the Obama rule requiring employers to cover contraception with no co-pay for their employees. O’Brien, joined by state House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt, Rep. Charles Bass (R), a spokesman for Rep. Frank Guinta (R) and Bishop Peter Libasci told reporters at a news conference that Obama’s compromise, requiring insurers to cover birth control when the employer morally objects, doesn’t go far enough to protect religious freedom.

    “This is about ensuring we do not mandate things contrary to people’s moral and religious views,” Bettencourt said.

    Nevertheless, New Hampshire has had a law on the books for more than a decade that requires insurance coverage for contraceptive devices and services — and the law has no religious exemptions. It passed with strong bipartisan support, and religious organizations in the state have been complying for years without complaint. The only major difference between the state law and Obama’s rule is that in New Hampshire, women are still responsible for an insurance co-pay.

    Bishop Libasci, head of the Manchester Diocese, said on Monday that New Hampshire’s birth control mandate has just now come to public attention and that the House will move to repeal it. But the majority of state representatives, 120 Republicans, 121 Democrats and 2 independents, voted to pass it in 1999. State House Minority Leader Terie Norelli (D-Portsmouth) said none of the Republican lawmakers, bishops or Catholic groups complained about New Hampshire’s law until now.

  8. The bishops go off the deep end
    Rejecting the Obama contraception compromise, they display their irrelevance to moral and political dialogue
    By Joan Walsh

    Just as I was publishing my post about Catholic tribalism on Friday, predicting that the brilliant White House “accommodation” on contraception wouldn’t mollify the U.S. Conference of Bishops, the bishops released a statement that made them seem, well, mollified, at least a little. The new Health and Human Services regulations were “a step in the right direction,” their statement read, and so I softened an assertion that the bishops would continue to wage war against the compromise.

    I needn’t have soft-pedaled. Only a few hours later the bishops came out, guns blazing, insisting the only solution they would accept would be for “HHS to rescind the mandate for those objectionable services.” By any employer, for any employee in the entire country — a country where the vast majority of voters, and of Catholics, support Obama’s stand. And at Sunday Mass, bishops and parish priests throughout the nation read aloud the stunningly political letters about the controversy they already had planned. Now, with the bishops’ blessing, Republican are hard at work on legislation that would force HHS to strip the contraceptive coverage requirement for all employers, not just religious employers. Sen. Roy Blunt would allow employers to decline to cover any service they deem objectionable; Sen. Marco Rubio would restrict the legislation to contraception coverage.

    I have a couple of reactions to the bishops’ extremism. First of all, as someone raised Catholic, I wonder why they’ve never read letters about any of their social justice priorities: universal healthcare, increased protection for the poor, labor rights, or action to curb climate change? Why does this topic – not even the morally challenging issue of abortion, but the universally accepted practice of birth control – merit such a thundering reaction from the pulpit?

    Second, as an American, I also wonder: How do they continue to demand tax-exempt status when they’re railing in their churches about blatantly political – and divisively partisan – public concerns? As the first writer on my remarkably sane Catholic tribalism letters thread remarked, their public support for the extremist GOP position makes me think they should register as a Republican political action committee rather than remain a tax-exempt religious institution outside the bounds of politics.

    Even as the bishops became more shrill and extreme, the debate over contraception coverage became smarter and calmer last week. Major Catholic organizations supported Obama’s Friday move, including the Catholic Health Association, Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and Catholic Charities USA. Before the president’s announcement, famed attorney David Boies did the most to usher in the new tone by framing the HHS rules as a matter of labor law. Boies doesn’t believe, by the way, that HHS is in any way required to provide the exemption for churches it wrote into its regulations even before the compromise. If the church is employing people, whether co-religionists or not, it has a responsibility to comply with employment law. He proved that even the administration’s initial regulations, exempting churches, was a strong attempt at accommodating anti-contraceptive religious groups.

  9. Catholic bishops cry wolf on contraception
    Bill Press Tribune Media Services
    February 13, 2012–tms–bpresstt–m-b20120213feb13,0,5224040.column

    I love protests, and have taken part in many of them. My first was picketing in front of Safeway in San Francisco, urging shoppers to support California farm workers and boycott grapes.

    But there are real protests and there are phony protests. And one of the phoniest we’ve ever seen is today’s protest by Catholic bishops against the Obama administration’s new rules on insurance coverage of contraception.

    Judging from the cries of outrage coming from the Catholic hierarchy, you’d think President Obama had shut down Catholic churches, defrocked all priests, sent nuns back to Ireland, and dropped an atomic bomb on the Vatican. On every cable news or talk radio show, Obama’s accused of trampling on the First Amendment, declaring war on religion, destroying religious freedom and, of course, Catholic-bashing.

    Nonsense. Here’s the truth. On January 20, the Health and Human Services Agency, under Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, issued a new rule that insurance policies, as part of their basic package, must offer contraceptive services with no deductible or co-pay. An exception was made for 335,000 churches, missions, or other places of worship where all employees were Catholic or members of any religion which opposed contraception as a matter of faith.

    Note: The new ruling does not require Catholic hospitals or clinics to provide birth control pills or devices. It does not force Catholics to practice contraception. It does not interfere with anyone’s religion. It does not prevent priests and bishops from continuing their appalling medieval and widely ignored attempts to convince Catholics that contraception is sinful. It simply says that there can no longer be two kinds of health insurance policies: those that cover contraception and those that don’t. All women deserve access to the same health protection. It’s up to the individual woman to decide whether to practice contraception or not.

    What makes this whole debate so appalling is that, in raising holy hell against Obama, Catholic bishops are being dishonest. They accuse the president of infringing on religious liberty. Yet they fail to acknowledge, for example, that not everybody who works in a Catholic hospital or university is a Catholic — and should not, therefore, be bound by narrow Catholic attitudes toward sex.

  10. Elaine,
    I just saw that story about Snow and Collins. They know that they won’t get reelected if they don’t back women’s health.

  11. Republican Women Senators Breaking Ranks With Party, Come Out In Favor Of Obama Contraception Rule
    By Igor Volsky on Feb 13, 2012

    While GOP senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has pledged to fight the Obama’s administration’s modified regulation requiring health insurers and busnisses to offer contraception coverage without additional cost sharing, the revised rule “appears to have won over” two of the five Republican women senators.

    Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME) and Susan Collins (ME) — both of whom have sponsored legislation requiring insurers to offer contraception benefits in all health plans — are in favor of the new compromise, which would allow religiously affiliated colleges, universities, and hospitals to avoid providing birth control. Their employees will still receive contraception coverage at no additional cost sharing directly from the insurer:

    “It appears that changes have been made that provide women’s health services without compelling Catholic organizations in particular to violate the beliefs and tenets of their faith,” Snowe said in a statement. “According to the Catholic Health Association, the administration ‘responded to the issues [they] identified that needed to be fixed,’ which is what I urged the president to do in addressing this situation.

    “While I will carefully review the details of the president’s revised proposal, it appears to be a step in the right direction,” Collins said in a statement. “The administration’s original plan was deeply flawed and clearly would have posed a threat to religious freedom. It presented the Catholic Church with its wide-ranging social, educational, and health care services, and many other faith-based organizations, with an impossible choice between violating their religious beliefs or violating federal regulations. The administration has finally listened to the concerns raised by many and appears to be seeking to avoid the threat to religious liberties posed by its original plan.”

  12. Great topic, Elaine. As usual your post has generated a ton of comments. The effort to extend rights of conscience to employers is not only bad policy, but dangerous policy. It is contrary to the notion of pluralism and effectively permits employers to impose sectarian religious views on employees as a matter of company policy.

  13. Birth Control Debate: Why Catholic Bishops Have Lost Their Grip on U.S. Politics—and Their Flock
    By Tim Padgett | February 13, 2012

    The Vatican’s timing was ironic. While Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S. were trying to revive their moral and political clout last week by battling President Obama over contraception coverage and religious liberty, a papally endorsed symposium was underway in Rome on how the Church has to change if it wants to prevent sexual abuse crises, the very tragedy that has shriveled the stature of Catholic prelates worldwide over the past decade, especially in the U.S. One monsignor at the Vatican gathering even suggested the hierarchy had been guilty of “omertà,” the Mafia code of silence, by protecting abusive priests.

    The Roman forum was a reminder—and the birth control clash is turning out to be one as well — of just how much influence the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has lost in the 10 years since the abuse crisis erupted in America. It hopes that its protest of a new federal rule requiring religiously affiliated institutions like Catholic hospitals and universities to provide no-cost contraception in their health insurance coverage, even if church doctrine forbids birth control, will help restore the bishops’ relevance. They did win a partial victory last Friday when Obama, acknowledging the uproar, said those institutions would no longer have to pay for the contraception coverage themselves. But the President did not fully genuflect: The compromise will still oblige religious-based employers to offer the coverage, while their insurance providers foot the bill.

    Although major Catholic groups like Catholic Charities and Catholic Health Services accepted that revision, the bishops are holding out for more. But their crusade to be exempted from the mandate is likely to fall short of its grail. If so, it’s because Obama read the Catholic flock better than its shepherds did.

    Granted, the bishops, led by New York Archbishop and Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan, did get the White House to acknowledge how high-handedly and ham-handedly it had managed the contraception debate—confirming along the way the public’s wariness of the so-called liberal elite—and convinced it to craft a deal that should have been policy in the first place. Yet in his refusal to cave completely to the religious liberty campaign, Obama has illustrated the reality that the bishops no longer speak for most U.S. Catholics—the nation’s largest religious denomination and a critical swing-voter group—on a host of moral issues, according to polls.

    Not on abortion or the death penalty (a majority of Catholics believe those should remain legal); on divorce or homosexuality (most say those are acceptable); on women being ordained as priests and priests getting married (ditto); or on masturbation and pre-marital sex (ditto again, Your Excellencies).

    And especially not on contraception. Ever since Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Church’s senseless ban on birth control in 1968, few doctrines have been as vilified, ridiculed and outright ignored by Catholics – evidenced by a recent study showing that 98% of American Catholic women have used some form of contraception. It’s hard to believe, as the bishops would have it, that those women simply succumbed to society’s pressure to do the secular thing. They’ve decided, in keeping with their faith’s precept of exercising personal conscience, that family planning is the moral and societally responsible thing to do—for example, preventing unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions. And it explains why a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll found most Catholics support the contraception coverage mandate even for Catholic-affiliated organizations. Presumably most endorse Friday’s compromise.

    Far more Evangelical Protestants, according to the PRRI survey, back the bishops than Catholics do. But that hardly makes the bishops, when it comes to the more independent Catholic vote, the same force to be reckoned with that they were in the 20th century. That is, before 2002 and the horror stories of how prelates like Cardinal Bernard Law, then Boston’s archbishop, had serially shielded alleged pedophile priests. It’s true that some bishops, like Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl, confronted rather than coddled accused priests. But when it became clear that so many of the men in miters cared more about safeguarding the clerical corporation than about protecting kids, episcopal “authority” vanished like so much incense smoke—and Catholics increasingly abandoned the 2,000-year-old notion that their church and their religion are the same thing.

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