So this has been a pretty hectic couple of weeks in the world of reproductive health. You’ve all heard about the mandate stating that insurance companies will have to provide birth control without a co-pay right? And you know about how last month the Obama administration announced that although churches and other religious organizations that primarily employ and serve members of the religion can seek an exemption to the rule on the grounds of religious opposition to birth control use but organizations that are religiously affiliated but employ and serve people outside of the religion will not be exempted too right? Ok good, well in the time since that announcement the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other conservative leaders have been decrying the issue as infringement on religious liberty.
What they are saying is that any religious employer should have the right to not offer insurance plans that provide no co-pay birth control because the employer’s religion opposes it. This is absurd and completely negates the experience of the employee who has the right to bodily autonomy, which should be more important than the religious institution’s right to pick and choose what services are available in their insurance plans but that hasn’t stopped birth control opponents from being extremely vocal in their opposition to this ruling.
Today President Obama announced an “accommodation” for religious employers who don’t want to directly provide insurance coverage for birth control. A fact sheet released by the White House states: “Under the policy: Religious organizations will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception. Religious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception. Contraception coverage will be offered to women by their employers’ insurance companies directly, with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception. Insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.”
In theory this should appease everyone. Women still get their birth control, religiously affiliated employers get to not provide the coverage, and insurance companies like it because birth control is cheaper than abortions and maternity care. So win-win-win right? Except that opposition to birth control coverage was never really about “religious liberty” it was about controlling women’s bodies. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has already announced his opposition to the new rules and Greg Sargent at the Washington Post expects more to follow.
Earlier this week Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) announced a bill that would grant an exemption to ANY employer who feels birth control violates their personal morals. So even if you don’t work for a religious institution, if your boss wants to refuse to provide birth control coverage they could, should this bill pass. Now that the new rules have been announced it is unclear if this bill would still be needed. Since religious employers can now opt out of providing coverage they don’t need the bill. Or would the bill go through and the new rules extended to private companies that opt out of providing birth control coverage. At this point this is all still speculation but as more news develops we will let you know.