By Sarah Lipton-Lubet, Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Most people may be keeping track of the NFL playoffs at the moment, but the big win today went to women. For anyone who’s keeping score, its women’s health — 1, discrimination — 0, with the Obama administration and thousands of women’s health proponents who pressured the Administration to do the right thing tied for MVP.
Today, the Obama administration announced that it would keep in place a proposed rule that ensures that new insurance plans include coverage of contraception, and provides an exception for houses of worship. The powerful U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ lobby, among others, had pressed for months to create gaping loopholes so that a broad range of employers could discriminate against women and deny them coverage for this essential preventive care. They tried to do so in the name of “religious liberty,” but what we know, is that as a nation, we protect religious beliefs, but one person’s religion must not be used to trump another’s civil rights protections. Because of the outcry from groups like the ACLU, however, the Obama administration stood up for women’s health and did not broaden the religious exception. The final rule will give certain religious employers that do not currently cover contraception an additional year to come into compliance.
We also know that the majority of women of childbearing age, regardless of religious background, use some form of birth control for 30 years, at costs that range from $50 per month for oral contraception, to up to $1,000 for longer-acting methods. We use birth control to prevent unintended pregnancies, protect our health, and to plan our lives. That’s why the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine initially recommended to HHS that insurance companies be required to cover contraceptives in the first place, and why the administration adopted — and has now confirmed — that policy.
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With today’s decision, good sense won out over political gamesmanship. And true religious liberty — which gives everyone the right to make personal decisions, including whether and when to use birth control based on their own beliefs — prevailed over discrimination.