In the News 2011

Editorial: Preventive care must include birth control


Sensibly, the Obama administration has added women’s contraception to the list of preventive services that the new Affordable Care Act will require insurers to cover at no additional cost to policyholders: no co-pays, no co-insurance, no deductibles.

It is hard to imagine any preventive care more basic to women’s health than reliable birth control. Since preventive care is the ACA’s goal and hope for slowing the rapid rise of health care costs, the inclusion of contraceptives should be unremarkable.

Instead, it is being hailed by women’s rights advocates as a landmark decision for women, and denounced by abortion-rights opponents as an infringement on people’s religious liberty.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops object, of course. The Catholic Church opposes artificial birth control in any form.

The Health and Human Services guidelines cover all forms of women’s birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including the so-called morning-after pill. Along with some other conservative Christians, the bishops consider it an abortion drug.

The Institute of Medicine, one of the National Academies, does not. And that is the standard that the government should accept in a free society in which no one’s religious beliefs should be imposed by force of law on those who do not share them freely.

If anything, the Obama administration has gone too far already to conform to religious tenets.

Catholics for Choice issued a statement complaining that the “multibillion-dollar Catholic health care industry” is among religious institutions being allowed “to ride roughshod over the needs of their workers.”

Given studies that show a majority of Catholic women have used some type of birth control that the church officially rejects, the advocacy group has a point. This is mandated coverage for what should be a personal choice.

The majority of American women aged 18 to 44 who have had intercourse with a man at least once have used some type of birth control the mandate would cover. It is basic to a range of women’s health issues.

Contraception is not the only benefit for women on the Institute of Medicine-recommended list of preventive services for women that truly advances their well-being and, should they become pregnant, the health of their children.

HHS incorporated all of them into ACA’s guidelines: annual well-woman visits, including preconception and prenatal care; screening for gestational diabetes; screening for the human papilloma virus; counseling for sexually transmitted infections; HIV counseling and screening; breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling; and screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence.

Policy at last is recognizing women’s specific health care needs and mandating better treatment: a turning point, indeed.

This article was originally published in the Roanoke Times.

Catholics for Choice