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Contraception rule respects religion

By Kathleen Sebelius

USA Today
February 5, 2012

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/story/2012-02-05/Kathleen-Sebelius-contraception-exemption/52975092/1

One of the key benefits of the 2010 health care law is that many preventive services are now free for most Americans with insurance. Vaccinations for children, cancer screenings for adults and wellness visits for seniors are all now covered in most plans with no expensive co-pays or deductibles. So is the full range of preventive health services recommended for women by the highly respected Institute of Medicine, including contraception.

OUR VIEW: Bad policy and bad politics

Today, virtually all American women use contraception at some point in their lives. And we have a large body of medical evidence showing it has significant benefits for their health, as well as the health of their children. But birth control can also be quite expensive, costing an average of $600 a year, which puts it out of reach for many women whose health plans don't cover it.

The public health case for making sure insurance covers contraception is clear. But we also recognize that many religious organizations have deeply held beliefs opposing the use of birth control.

That's why in the rule we put forward, we specifically carved out from the policy religious organizations that primarily employ people of their own faith. This exemption includes churches and other houses of worship, and could also include other church-affiliated organizations.

In choosing this exemption, we looked first at state laws already in place across the country. Of the 28 states that currently require contraception to be covered by insurance, eight have no religious exemption at all.

The religious exemption in the administration's rule is the same as the exemption in Oregon, New York and California.

It's important to note that our rule has no effect on the longstanding conscience clause protections for providers, which allow a Catholic doctor, for example, to refuse to write a prescription for contraception. Nor does it affect an individual woman's freedom to decide not to use birth control. And the president and this administration continue to support existing conscience protections.

This is not an easy issue. But by carving out an exemption for religious organizations based on policies already in place, we are working to strike the right balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing women's access to critical preventive health services.

Kathleen Sebelius is the secretary of Health and Human Services.