The lawsuits filed against the Obama administration’s birth control benefit are aimed at curtailing women’s access to affordable birth control. The no-copay birth control benefit is of great economic and health value to women across this nation; and, litigation brought by those opposed is a waste of resources on an issue that has been fully litigated in New York and in California.
“Rather than infringing on religious liberty—as opponents claim the new rule requiring employer-sponsored health insurance plans to cover birth control without copays does—it strikes a careful and appropriate balance,” said Family Planning Advocates of New York State President and CEO M. Tracey Brooks. “Churches and other religious organizations are protected, as is women’s health and individual conscience.”
The federal rule contains an exemption for churches and other organizations engaged in wholly religious activities, allowing them to exclude coverage for contraception from employee health benefit plans. This exemption is based on the exemptions in California and New York contraceptive equity laws passed in 1999 and 2002, respectively. To be clear, these laws and the federal rule, exempt from compliance those organizations whose purpose is the inculcation of religious values, which primarily serve and employ those of the same faith, and are exempt from filing tax forms with the IRS.
“Allegations of infringement on religious liberty ignore well-established legal precedent,” Brooks stated, “and these lawsuits waste resources that would be better spent serving those in need, particularly in this difficult economic time when workers have lost jobs, health insurance, homes and more.”
Previously, constitutional challenges were filed after passage of both the California and the New York contraceptive equity laws. Both laws have been challenged and upheld by the States’ highest courts. Catholic organizations from every region of New York State filed suit, and the New York Court of Appeals specifically rejected arguments that requiring contraceptive coverage violated principles of religious liberty. Importantly, the Court explained that “[t]he employment relationship is a frequent subject of legislation, and when 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.” Further, the US Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from these cases, an indication that they do not violate religious liberty.
Contraception is an essential aspect of a woman’s health care and her ability to participate equally in our society, said Brooks. Ninety-nine percent of sexually active American women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, report using contraception at some point in their lives; and 88 percent of American women who are at risk of unintended pregnancy are currently using a contraceptive method other than natural family planning, a clear indication of the value of affordable access.