Who knew so many employers toss and turn at night thinking about their employees' reproductive health decisions? Such is the case for a new crop of legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate.
A group of Colorado nuns sued the federal government, unsatisfied with the current rule which allows a religious exemption, but would require them to acknowledge the existence of contraception, which they claim violates the Catholic orders' rights. Some for-profit corporation owners object to the mandate on religious grounds — another issue that the Supreme Court plans to consider. The logic behind each lawsuit is "religious freedom!" of course. Yet no matter how you spin it, impeding access to affordable contraception for American citizens is just bad public policy.
Here are seven reasons why birth control should be covered by all health plans:
Sarah Fluke testifies before Congress about the health benefits of contraception for women.
There are a plethora of reasons why women use birth control, including 33% of teens aged 15-19 and nearly 800,000 women who have never had sex, who use oral contraception for non-contraceptive purposes
A 2012 study by the Guttmacher Institute, a leading reproductive health research and advocacy group, found that a majority of women believe birth control allows them to take better care of their families (63%), support themselves financially (56%), complete their education (51%), or keep or get a job (50%). The financial success and emotional well-being of women are undoubtedly tied to contraception, while unintended pregnancies put a financial strain on everyone. The cost of unwanted pregnancies in the U.S. average an estimated $11.3 billion per year due to government-subsidized programs such as Medicaid, which set women back socioeconomically. When contraception is readily accessible, everyone wins.
Among men, 55% are in favor of the birth control mandate, according to a CBS News/New York Times survey. This is great news considering about 40% of births are unplanned. Birth control not only empowers women, but considering only 5% of men around the world even wear condoms, birth control empowers them to make healthy family planning choices too.
More than one-third (34%) of women voters have struggled with the cost of prescription birth control in their lives. Oral contraception can cost as much as $1,210 per year for women without insurance and even women with insurance face financial and social barriers. This is particularly true in low-income areas and communities that stigmatize reproductive health and sexual activity. No-cost birth control would help eliminate these barriers and have already done so for the 27 million women who are now benefiting thanks to the ACA — a 40% growth in contraception access since 2012.
The religious hierarchy's stance on contraceptives is going against the reality of people's sex lives. A recent study on religion and contraceptive use concluded that birth control is the norm for both Catholics and Evangelicals, even those who attend religious services frequently. Among all the women who ever had sex, 99% had used contraception and 69% of women who do not want to get pregnant use a highly effective form of contraception like the pill or an IUD. The study shows that affordable and accessible birth control would only reflect the need and desires of a vast majority of Americans.
Contrary to what Mitt Romney says, corporations are not people, my friend. If for-profit corporations and businesses can deny employees birth control coverage based on the religious objections of the owners, then the First Amendment and fundamental tenets of corporate law would be dangerously distorted. Religious freedom was intended for individuals — you know, humans who actually have the capacity to practice religion — not corporations. Corporations do not hire based on religion, and employees do have to share the owners' beliefs. Therefore, religious freedom does not apply, especially when the law views corporations as entities with separate rights and liabilities from the owner.
Even religious organizations who can deny their employees birth control coverage set a chilling precedent when it comes to employee sovereignty. An employer has the right to set workers' hours and pay, but compensations such as paychecks and health care belong to the employee to utilize how he or she pleases. If employers cannot dictate how employees use their paychecks, then why should employers dictate how employees use their health care? Employers should not have the power to dictate what products their employees consume in privacy.