We cheered when the Department of Health and Human Services made the decision to require that insurance plans include birth control and other preventive services with no co-pays. It was one of the greatest advancements for women’s health in decades. Included in the guidelines is a provision that would permit certain religious employers to opt out of the new federal requirement. More specifically, a “religious employer” is defined as a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to instill religious values and whose employees and clients share their religious tenets. Churches are part of this exemption.
Unfortunately anti-choice lobbyists and the Catholic church are not satisfied and this exclusion to cast a much wider net, excluding many women who want and need access to contraception but cannot afford it. As Cecile Richards wrote in her Huffington Post Blog:
Lobbyists are trying to expand this definition to include religiously affiliated colleges, universities, medical schools, hospitals, social service organizations, schools, you name it — so that these organizations will be able to refuse birth control coverage for their employees as well. This, despite the fact that these institutions in large part neither employ nor serve individuals who share their religious beliefs. In fact, they are open to and serve the public.
As with most of these discriminatory measures, those most affected are the also most vulnerable in our country: young women, often students, and low-income women. This is a working-class issue – it will affect nurses, teachers, janitors, and others who should not be discriminated against and denied a benefit that the vast majority of Americans will rightfully receive. It is our role as feminists and women’s health advocates to oppose this exemption!
Image from Flickr Creative Commons 2.0 User WeNews
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