Great news! Despite months of fierce lobbying by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Obama administration announced today that it would not exempt Catholic hospitals from the Affordable Care Act requirement for insurance plans to cover employees’ birth control. The news, which comes on the first day of Trust Women Week, is a welcome victory for feminists.
Back in November, feminists were concerned that President Obama might cave in to the Bishops’ pressure to exempt religious institutions. If the Bishops had their way, it would have meant that organizations that aren’t actual churches–such as colleges, universities and hospitals–would get out of covering birth control in insurance plans for their students and employees, despite an HHS ruling last August that birth control constitutes preventive care and should be covered with no copay. Feminists–including Feminist Majority President (and Ms. publisher) Eleanor Smeal–have loudly urged the administration not to let Catholic Bishops deny no-cost birth control coverage to millions. Here is Smeal’s response to today’s announcement:
At last—concern for women’s health trumps pressure from the Catholic Bishops. Millions of women who may have been denied access to birth control with no co-pays or deductibles will now have full access. I am especially pleased that college students at religiously affiliated institutions will now have coverage for birth control without co-pays or deductibles under their school health plans beginning in August 2012.
Birth control is the number one prescription drug for women ages 18 to 44 years. Right now, the average woman has to pay $50 per month for 30 years for birth control. No wonder many low-income women have had to forgo regular use of birth control and half of US pregnancies are unplanned. This decision will help millions of women and their families.
Some religious institutions will be given a one-year extension–from August 2012 to August 2013–to implement the no-fee coverage. Here are the details of the ruling:
- Non-profit religious institutions that do not currently cover contraception have until August 2013 to do so with no co-pays or deductibles
- However, religious institutions’ insurance plans that already cover birth control must do so with no co-pays or deductibles starting August 2012
- All student insurance plans at religiously affiliated universities must cover contraception with no co-pays or deductibles beginning August 2012
- Only women who work directly for a house of worship, such as for a church, synagogue, or mosque itself, are exempted from this required coverage