Wall Street Journal - February 7, 2012
It can cost $600 a year for prescription contraceptives. That's a
lot of money.
It was a historic victory for women's health when the Obama
administration changed the law to require private health plans to
provide preventive services including breast exams, HIV screening
and contraception for free. This new policy will help millions of
women get the affordable care they need.
Now, sadly, there is an aggressive and misleading campaign to
deny this benefit to women. It is being waged in the name of
religious liberty. But the real forces behind it are the same
ones that sought to shut down the federal government last year
over funding for women's health care. They are the same forces
that just tried to pressure the Susan G. Komen Foundation into
cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood for breast-cancer
screenings. Once again, they are trying to force their politics
on women's personal health-care decisions.
We are very glad that the president has stood up to these forces
while protecting religious freedom on all sides. His
administration should be commended, not criticized.
Contraception was included as a required preventive service on
the recommendation of the independent, nonprofit Institute of
Medicine and other medical experts because it is essential to the
health of women and families. Access to birth control is directly
linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality, can reduce
the risk of ovarian cancer, and is linked to overall good health
outcomes. Nationwide, 1.5 million women use contraceptives only
as treatment for serious medical conditions. Most importantly,
broadening access to birth control will help reduce the number of
unintended pregnancies and abortions, a goal we all should share.
Proper family planning through birth control results in healthier
mothers and children, which benefits all of us. It saves us money
too: The National Business Group on Health - a nonprofit whose
members are primarily Fortune 500 companies and large
public-sector employers - estimated that it costs 15% to 17% more
for employers to exclude birth-control coverage, both because
other medical costs rise and because of lost productivity.
Contraception is not a controversial issue for the vast majority
of Americans. Some 99% of women in the U.S. who are or have been
sexually active at some point in their lives have used birth
control, including 98% of Catholic women, according to the
Guttmacher Institute. A recent survey by Hart Research shows 71%
of American voters, including 77% of Catholic women voters,
supported this provision broadening access to birth control.
Consistent with other federal policies, churches and other groups
dedicated to teaching religious doctrine are exempted from
providing this coverage under a "conscience clause." But the law
does include institutions that have historic religious ties but
also have a broader mission, such as hospitals and universities.
That's also consistent with federal policy - and with laws that
already exist in many states.
Those now attacking the new health-coverage requirement claim it
is an assault on religious liberty, but the opposite is true.
Religious freedom means that Catholic women who want to follow
their church's doctrine can do so, avoiding the use of
contraception in any form. But the millions of American women who
choose to use contraception should not be forced to follow
religious doctrine, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.
Catholic hospitals and charities are woven into the fabric of our
broader society. They serve the public, receive government funds,
and get special tax benefits. We have a long history of asking
these institutions to play by the same rules as all our other
So let's remember who this controversy is really about - the
women of America. Already too many women struggle to pay for
birth control. According to the Hart Research survey cited above,
more than one-third of women have reported having difficulty
affording birth control. It can cost $600 a year for prescription
contraceptives. That's a lot of money for a mother working as a
medical technician in a Catholic hospital, or a teacher in a
private religious school.
Improving access to birth control is good health policy and good
economic policy. It will mean healthier women, healthier children
and healthier families. It will save money for businesses and
consumers. We should hold to the promise we made women and
provide this access broadly. Our nation will be better for it.
Ms. Shaheen, Ms. Boxer and Ms. Murray are Democratic U.S.
senators from New Hampshire, California and Washington,