The Affordable Care Act is under scrutiny once again. The most recent deliberation is over a provision that provides women full contraceptive coverage, which includes birth control pills. After great contention from religious groups, the Obama administration recently proposed a plan that excluded faith-based organizations from paying for birth control coverage. But the battle is not over — certain organizations and employers still feel that their First Amendment rights are being violated because they will be fined for not providing coverage, even though it goes against their personal beliefs.
The issue of birth control, however, is much greater than personal beliefs. It is critical that birth control remain fully covered because eliminating this provision would disproportionately impact socioeconomically disadvantaged women and result in serious public health issues.
The current conversation is largely driven by religion. The United States is founded on the separation of the church and state, and President Obama has rightfully excluded faith-based organizations from paying for birth control coverage.
However, it is important to realize that religion has its place in the debate. 18 companies have filed lawsuits to reject the birth control provision since these employers feel that their religious freedoms are violated. The provision actually does the opposite. It guarantees freedoms and provides women their rights as human beings. Allowing employers to dominate the conversation propagates their ability to control women and dictate their choices. As a public institution not driven by religion, one’s personal beliefs are irrelevant when a population’s health and rights are at stake.
When 70% of Americans want birth control to be free, it is apparent that the common good of the country should be evaluated. Enabling public companies to dictate what their employees have access to eliminates the democratic nature of the country and ironically undermines the separation of church and state.
Beyond understanding the root of the conversation, it is critical to examine the substantial benefits that free birth control provides. Eliminating full coverage of birth control disproportionately targets women of lower socioeconomic status. In addition to the burden of simply accessing health care, the poor are faced with yet another health care cost. People in rural areas must travel for hundreds of miles to receive their birth control, but with the conscience clause, pharmacists have the right to reject the person if they do not believe in the idea of using the pills. Additionally, what appears to be a small co-pay for one person is not the same for someone else.
Free birth control not only reduces the health disparities that impact low socioeconomic populations and minorities, but it also resolves serious public health issues. Every year, birth control delays first pregnancies for women, prevents 9.4 million unintended pregnancies, averts 4 million abortions, halts unsafe abortions, and inevitably decreases maternal mortality by 13%. Research conducted at Johns Hopkins shows that by meeting the need for contraceptives across the globe, maternal deaths can be diminished by one-third. It was also found that in the 172 countries sampled, had contraception not been available, the number of maternal deaths would have doubled. Since the introduction of birth control, maternal mortality has decreased by over 52%. Ensuring free birth control is essential to lowering both infant and maternal mortality.
As the debate of whether or not public institutions should have the right to reject the provision that employees must have free access to birth control persists, realizing the premise for why the lawsuits are being filed is critical. It is crucial that the church and state remain separated, and thus Obama’s proposal to exclude faith-based organizations from the mandate is valid. However, when religious views impose on the common good, the significant health benefits, of the nation, the same logic must apply.