Back in July, the Obama Administration asked the public to weigh in on the now-five-year controversy over something many of us know is not controversial.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance plans must cover all FDA-approved kinds of birth control. This makes sense because birth control is, well, not controversial. It’s widely used, even among women of all religious backgrounds. It’s widely credited for contributing to women’s societal, educational, and economic gains. Indeed, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention named birth control one of the top ten public health achievements in the 20th Century.
But, employers and universities with religious objections to contraception have been looking for a way out of the coverage requirement for years. In 2013, the Administration gave religiously affiliated nonprofits an accommodation (and this was extended to closely held for-profit corporations by the Supreme Court’s notorious Hobby Lobby decision). Religious objectors could give written notice, and then the government arranges for the objector’s insurance company or plan administrator to step in and provide and pay for the contraceptive coverage. In short, if religiously affiliated organizations and closely held corporations that have religious objections simply provide written notice of their objection, they don’t have to provide, pay for, or even inform their employees or students about health insurance coverage for contraception. And the employees and students get contraception insurance without cost sharing.
Remarkably, though, religious objectors wouldn’t accept the accommodation. They sued, saying that the mere act of providing written notice violated their religious freedom. Their cases made it to the Supreme Court. But you might recall that in May of this year in Zubik v. Burwell, the Court punted the case back down to the lower courts for further consideration. The Court hoped that somehow the federal government could further compromise to satisfy the objectors while still providing access to contraception.
That brings us to the present. The Administration asked the public to weigh in on whether a proposal made by the Supreme Court and another made by objectors would work.
Our answer is “no.” On Tuesday, Americans United submitted comments to the Administration on the proposed compromises. Both proposals result in delay, confusion, and worry for women who just need basic healthcare. They would treat coverage for contraception care differently than all other preventive care, meaning it would be anything but seamless, fair, or equal.
A compromise isn’t a compromise if one side loses big. In this case, it’s women who would be harmed under these proposals. Religious freedom gives objectors the right to believe whatever they want about contraception, but it does not give them the right to impose those beliefs on women or prevent them from accessing birth control options.
The Administration got a lot of comments on Tuesday. After reviewing them, the clear conclusion should be to reject those unworkable proposals and stick with the accommodation they devised in 2013. Health care for women is too important to compromise.
Follow Samantha Sokol online at @samsokol19