On Thursday, the new U.S. insurance mandate requiring the coverage of contraception costs, even for employees of religious institutions, will take effect. This will require an employee's health insurer or third-party insurance provider to notify them about birth control benefits, while also providing beneficiaries with direct payments. This finally makes up for all the times my pharmacist yelled across the pharmacy, “Your health insurance doesn’t cover your birth control!” before charging a poor college student $90 because the Catholic hospital my mom worked at decided that neglecting my medical needs was “pro-life.” Sweet, long-awaited victory.
Of course, as a Catholic, I also know that many of my fellow Catholics and Christians will be crying "religious persecution," even though the Catholic Church has come very close to accepting birth control as a viable method of family planning and 82% of American Catholics believe that birth control is morally acceptable. Not only that, the Catholic Health Association recently released a statement expressing its belief that there is nothing wrong with the HHS mandate that would require religious institutions to pay for birth control, and the law only requires that Catholic universities, hospitals, and social service groups follow the mandate — in other words, the law isn’t prohibiting the church’s right to preach its stance on birth control in churches, nor is it requiring anyone to use birth control or to have an abortion. It is merely protecting employees of religious institutions' access to insurance-covered birth control.
A few days ago, a federal appeals court rejected a Pennsylvannia cabinet maker’s challenge to the new mandate, on behalf of a Mennonite Wood Specialities Corporation, finding that for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercises. However, Hobby Lobby recently found success in fighting off major fines for rejecting the HHS mandate. So even as many religious institutions flood to the courts to fight the HHS mandate, it's not likely that we'll see many of them succeed in court, because the contraception mandate does not favor one institution over another, nor does it prohibit the free exercise of any particular religion. If you choose not to not use birth control, you are protected, and if you do choose to use birth control, you are still protected.
In the end, this mandate will given women full access to a wide range of services, including those that are identified by the Institutes of Medicine as being essential to women’s health and well-being. These services include breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling, screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence, screening for gestational diabetes, DNA testing for high-risk strains of HPV, contraceptive methods and counseling, and well-woman visits. The mandate will also help cover services, vaccinations, and interventions, including those that are most needed by women, infants, children, and adolescents. This mandate, along with the Affordable Care Act as a whole, helps make women’s access to health care more equitable, making women healthier and reducing economic and social costs for society as a whole.