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ACLU Lens: Contraception Coverage Good for Women but Debate Leads to Bigger Questions

Meghan Groob,
Media Strategist,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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February 7, 2013

Last week, the Obama administration released a proposed rule implementing the requirement that insurance plans cover birth control as part of “Obamacare.” The proposal implements an accommodation announced last year, which allows nonprofits with religious affiliations to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage while ensuring that employees and dependents will get such coverage directly from insurance companies.

What does this mean for women? It means the administration continues to stand up for us to make sure we have access to basic health care. The Department of Health and Human Services recognized that the overwhelming majority of women use contraception at some point of their lives, and that it’s essential preventive care for women—which is why they adopted the rule in the first place. As things move forward and details get worked out, it’s important to make sure that women get this coverage seamlessly, without burdens or hurdles.

What does this mean for employers opposed to contraception? Although the original rule (which did not make this accommodation for nonprofits that objected to providing contraception) was perfectly legal and completely consistent with religious freedom principles, the administration has now gone out of its way to provide modifications for nonprofit institutions with religious objections. Under the proposed rule, those nonprofit employers could decide not to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for birth control coverage. Their employees will, however, be provided coverage, through their insurer, under the proposal. For-profit businesses—such as Hobby Lobby, a national retail chain currently suing the administration—will still have to comply with the original rule, and can’t withhold contraceptive coverage from their workers. As the Obama administration explained, these entities don’t get accommodations under other nondiscrimination laws, so the proposal is consistent.

You’d think the nonprofits opposed to the rule would be satisfied, right? Think again. Sarah Lipton-Lubet, ACLU policy counsel, said last week:

Over the last year, we’ve seen a disturbing number of instances where employers are trying to impose their religious beliefs on a diverse workforce that does not share them, and opponents of the law have made it clear that they won’t rest until no insurance plan, whatever the source, is required to cover contraception.

That’s because from the start, this has never been a fight about religious liberty. It’s always been about whether women will have affordable birth control and equal access to benefits. And in 2013, apparently that’s a fight we’re still having.

The fight over the contraception rule is just one piece of a larger issue that’s been popping up around the country where institutions and individuals are trying to use religion to discriminate. Companies withholding access to birth control coverage are just one example. We’ve also seen inns and bakeries refuse to provide rooms and cakes to same-sex couples celebrating their relationships. Religious freedom means we all have the right to hold our own beliefs, but it does not give one group the right to impose its beliefs on its employees or customers. That’s not religious freedom—that’s discrimination plain and simple.

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