The battle for birth control coverage continues in the USA

February 11, 2013 • Family Planning, Reproductive Health, United States, News

The battle for birth control coverage continues in the USA

A revision to the US health-care act’s requirement that employees be provided with contraception coverage might do little to stop the issue heading to the Supreme Court. Sharmila Devi reports.

A compromise announced last week (Feb 1) by the Obama administration over health insurance and contraception coverage seems unlikely to assuage the fierce objections of some religious groups and employers, who have launched dozens of lawsuits across the USA.

Under the proposal, the number of groups that do not have to pay directly for birth control coverage was expanded from only churches to include religiously affiliated universities and charities. Female employees would get free contraception from a separate insurance plan and insurance companies would pay for the coverage, recouping their costs partly from federal credits and also through an expected lower birth rate leading to lower costs.

Kathleen Sebelius, US Secretary of Health and Human Services, said the compromise would provide “women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost while respecting religious concerns”.

Contraception coverage, part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed during Barack Obama’s first presidential term, became an election issue during last year’s presidential campaign when religious groups claimed religious liberty was under attack.

The Supreme Court last year found the health-care act to be constitutional. It requires employers to provide women with coverage at no cost for “preventive care and screenings”, which the administration said included contraception under most health plans. Originally, only religious organisations that mostly employed and served people of faith, such as churches, were exempt from providing health insurance including contraception, sterilisation, and abortion. Many Catholics, for example, are opposed to all forms of contraception while many Protestant Evangelicals object to abortion and the morning-after pill.

The broader exemption announced last week includes a wider swathe of religious, non-profit organisations but not “religious employers”-businesses whose owners have religious objections. Although the proposal was welcomed by some civil liberties groups, other organisations vowed to fight on. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group, said it would continue to litigate against what it called the “abortion pill mandate”.

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