Contraception should not be an optional benefit for women. Access to affordable (with no co-pay) contraception in health insurance is mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and while a woman having control over her own reproduction may seem to many as a right owed to any autonomous being, this right is still being disputed at the state and federal levels.
Last week the Health Committee of the Wisconsin Assembly held a hearing ontwo proposed bills – Assembly Bills 216 and 217 (AB 216 Fact Sheet and AB 217 Fact Sheet) which threaten to come between a woman and her doctor and hinder her access to not only abortion, but all forms of contraception.
Representative Pasch concisely summarized the heart of the issue when she said “we have a subgroup deciding what is medically necessary for women”.
However, confusion abounded in the room, especially over the contraceptive coverage mandate in the ACA, and the potential changes to the religious exemption at the federal level that are currently in place. One of the main justifications that the writers of AB 216 used was that Wisconsin’s contraceptive equity law does not provide a conscience clause for religious entities. Therefore, the proposed law was allegedly designed to align Wisconsin with the federal law’s religious employer exemption; however, the proposed bill is much broader than the religious exemption in the ACA, and therefore more female employees in the state will be without insurance-covered contraceptive options.
The current religious exemption in the ACA applies to religious non-profit organizations, specifically houses of worship where the majority of the employees hold the same faith. However, Wisconsin AB 216 broadens this group to include religiously-affiliated hospitals and universities, where many employees do not hold the same beliefs. In addition, regardless of faith, 99% of women use contraception at some point in their life, and 98% of Catholic women do so.
Furthermore, the federal Department of Human and Health Services is expected to release final regulations on the religious accommodation issue by August 1 of this year. The federal administration understands the importance of affordable (therefore accessible) contraceptive options for women, and therefore it is crafting a compromise where religious entities won’t pay for the benefits themselves, but insurance companies will essentially absorb the costs of contraception so it is still available to those women.
Women have a right to equal coverage of affordable, accessible health care, regardless of who their employer is.
AB216 will be part of the agenda for an executive session tomorrow (Wednesday, June 4) to pass it out of committee. After that, it likely will move quickly through the Assembly. Call you legislator as soon as possible to voice that women’s affordable access to contraception should not depend on the beliefs of her employer.