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February 8, 2012

Myth Busting and Fact Checking on the Birth Control Coverage Benefit

The Affordable Care Act and recent decisions by the White House strike a respectful balance between religious interests and individual conscious and personal religious freedom. Many different claims about the birth control coverage benefit have been made – read on to get the facts and de-bunk the myths around this essential benefit for women! Take action to protect contraception access.

FACT: Majority of Americans and Catholics support the birth control benefit. A Public Religion Research Institute Poll (released 2/7/12) shows that 58 percent of Catholics believe that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception. A Public Policy Poll (released 2/17/12) shows that 57 percent of voters believe women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have the same rights to contraceptive coverage as other women.   

FACT: Birth control use is nearly universal in the United States, even among Catholic women. Ninety-nine percent of all sexually experienced women and 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women will have used birth control at some point in their lives.

FACT: The current policy already includes an expansive exemption, allowing approximately 335,000 churches/houses of worship to refuse to provide birth control for their employees. 

MYTH: Birth control opponents are claiming that this benefit would cover abortifacients and abortion inducing drugs.

FACT: This benefit in no way requires coverage of abortifacients. The requirement is that health plans must cover all FDA-approved prescription contraceptive methods. Contraception is not abortion. Birth control opponents wrongly claim that emergency contraception is an abortifacient, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is a form of birth control because it cannot and does not induce an abortion. Opponents of contraception repeatedly try to switch the debate to abortion, in order to inflame the rhetoric. That’s just inaccurate.

MYTH: Catholic voters oppose this benefit because it intrudes on their religious freedom.

FACT: This benefit is popular with a majority of Americans, including a majority of Catholics. A poll by Public Religion Research Institute shows that 58 percent of Catholics believe that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception. Another poll by Public Policy Polling[2] shows that 56 percent of voters support the birth control coverage benefit, including 53 percent of Catholic voters, and 62 percent of Catholics who identify themselves as independents.  This should come as no surprise, since according to the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women will have used birth control at some point in their lives.

MYTH: This is a violation of religious freedom and the First Amendment.

FACT: The New York State Supreme Court has ruled that contraceptive equity laws with narrower employer exclusions do not violate the First Amendment or substantially burden a religious belief or practice. In their decision, they write, “[W]hen a religious organization chooses to hire nonbelievers it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.” 

Birth control opponents also ignore the religious freedom of the individual workers, and their right to make their own health care decisions. This provision does not require any religiously affiliated institution to provide birth control. This is about health insurance coverage, which is  one step removed.

MYTH: There is no religious exemption.

FACT: The current benefit includes an expansive religious exemption, allowing approximately 335,000 churches and houses of worships to refuse to provide this benefit to their employees (such as a janitor or secretary), even if they don’t share the same faith. Expanding the refusal provision would mean that religiously affiliated hospitals and universities that operate as a business and serve and employ the broader public would be allowed to deny their employees access to this common benefit. Millions of American workers would lose access to this essential contraception benefit under such an expansion. 

MYTH: This benefit is forcing religiously affiliated hospitals and universities to do something they currently aren’t doing.

FACT: As NPR reported, many Catholic hospitals, such as Catholic Healthcare West, and universities currently provide birth control coverage to their employees. It is a standard and expected benefit, even for employees at Catholic hospitals and universities.   

MYTH: Opponents of the birth control coverage benefit are only interested in expanding the refusal provision for religiously affiliated entities.

FACT: The Institute of Medicine (IOM) considers birth control an essential part of women’s health care. For this reason, major medical societies, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association, the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, oppose an expansion of the refusal provision. 

Because it is such basic health care, excluding birth control from coverage has long been considered discrimination against women. Prescription contraceptives are used exclusively by women, who uniquely have the potential to become pregnant. The failure to provide coverage for prescription contraception in health plans that otherwise cover prescription drugs and devices singles out and treats less favorably medication needed for a pregnancy-related condition. It is for this reason that the EEOC has recognized that denying women contraceptive coverage constitutes sex discrimination.

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