Protecting the Health of Women While Accommodating Religious Liberty
By Cecilia Muñoz
Thank you for using We the People to make your voice heard about the Obama Administration's decision to ensure that women have access to free preventive care with no co-pays, including contraceptive services, no matter where they work.
As background, the Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover preventive services, including preventive care for women, without charging a co-pay starting on August 1, 2012. These preventive services include well women visits, domestic violence screening, and contraception, and all were recommended to the Secretary of Health and Human Services by the independent Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science.
The policies we have proposed exempt churches, other houses of worship, and similar organizations from covering contraception on the basis of their religious objections. But some religious organizations have raised religious liberty concerns about providing contraception in particular in recent weeks.
Today, President Obama has announced that his Administration will implement this policy in a manner that fully accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women. As the President said:
Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives –- 99 percent. And yet, more than half of all women between the ages of 18 and 34 have struggled to afford it. So for all these reasons, we decided to follow the judgment of the nation’s leading medical experts and make sure that free preventive care includes access to free contraceptive care. Whether you’re a teacher, or a small businesswoman, or a nurse, or a janitor, no woman’s health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes. Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period. This basic principle is already the law in 28 states across the country.
Now, as we move to implement this rule, however, we've been mindful that there's another principle at stake here –- and that's the principle of religious liberty, an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution. As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right. In fact, my first job in Chicago was working with Catholic parishes in poor neighborhoods, and my salary was funded by a grant from an arm of the Catholic Church. And I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could, so I know how important the work that faith-based organizations do and how much impact they can have in their communities.
Here are a few basic facts:
- Under the policy, women have access to preventive care with no co-pay that includes contraceptive services.
- All churches and houses of worship are exempt from the requirement to provide coverage for contraception or refer for contraception.
- If a woman's employer is a religious non-profit organization, such as a charity hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, her insurance company -- not the hospital or charity -- will be required to reach out and provide her contraceptive care free of charge if she chooses to use it.
There are tremendous health benefits for women that come from using contraception. Contraception is a safe and effective way of preventing unintended pregnancies which can be associated with increased health risks, and doctors also prescribe contraception for medical and health reasons, including helping to reduce the risk of some cancers, serious infections and cysts. Yet many women skip contraceptive care because of cost.
President Obama is also committed to preserving religious liberty and he listened to the concerns raised by certain religious organizations and took them seriously.
This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been grappling to find a solution that works for everyone, and the policy announced today has done that. The right to religious liberty will be fully protected, and a law that requires preventive care without co-pays will not discriminate against any woman, anywhere. Here are a few statements from groups involved in the issue:
President Obama has shown us that he is willing to rise above the partisan fray to deliver an actual policy solution that both meets the health care needs of all employees and respects the religious liberty of Catholic institutions.
We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished.
The Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work.
Today's announcement makes it clear that President Obama is firmly committed to protecting women's health.
Thank you again for participating in the We the People platform to make your voice heard on this important issue.
Cecilia Muñoz is Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council