Commentary Contraception

Birth Control And Government: The Right of Refusal Should Belong to Women

Nancy Kaufman

NCJW and our colleagues in the faith community understand that this is an issue of religious liberty -- although there are differing religious views on the use of contraception, it should be up to women to decide on whether and when to use contraception based on their own beliefs and needs.

Cross-posted with permission from HuffPost Women in partnership with #HERvotes.

See all our coverage of the 2012 Contraceptive Mandate here.

There’s a chant that is familiar to anyone who has ever attended a reproductive rights rally — “Not the church, not the state; Women should decide their fate!” Usually this rallying cry is in defense of a woman’s right to choose abortion. Today this chant takes on new relevance when it comes to birth control.

On Jan. 20th, the Obama Administration issued a decision to include contraceptives as part of the package of women’s preventive health services in the Affordable Care Act (ACA, the 2010 health reform law). Beginning in August 2012, all of the services in this package will be available in new insurance plans without any out-of-pocket costs to women. In a country where half of all pregnancies are unplanned and the cost of birth control is high, this decision is an important step in promoting women’s health. The rule specifically exempts pervasively religious institutions like certain houses of worship from offering their employees birth control coverage as part of their health insurance.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

This exemption did not go far enough for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and some other religious groups who had been lobbying hard to broaden that exemption to include religious schools, organizations and service providers. They insist that to cover their employees’ need for contraceptive services would violate their religious beliefs — the beliefs of the employers, not the employees. After all, among the hundreds of thousands of employees of religiously-affiliated universities, hospitals, social service programs, etc., there are many who belong to a different faith group or — regardless of their affiliation — may hold beliefs that differ from their bosses. We are not just talking about direct employees by the way. Families of workers are likely to be covered under an insurance policy, too.

Statistics show that most insurance plans already cover birth control and 28 states require it. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in announcing the Administration’s decision, explained that birth control is the most commonly taken drug in the U.S. by young and middle-aged women — and that holds true of women across the religious spectrum. Ninety-eight percent of all American women, Catholic and otherwise, report using birth control during their lifetime.

The lobbying by the Catholic bishops has been widely publicized. What hasn’t gotten as much attention is that many faith-based groups, including the National Council of Jewish Women, which I lead, weighed in on the other side. NCJW and our colleagues in the faith community understand that this is an issue of religious liberty — although there are differing religious views on the use of contraception, it should be up to women to decide on whether and when to use contraception based on their own beliefs and needs.

On this most-personal decision, no woman should be forced to abide by the religious views of her bosses at work or those of her insured spouse’s employer. Take a look at any religiously affiliated college, hospital or social service agency and you’re likely to find that the religious affiliations of the nurses, social workers, van drivers, cafeteria workers, professors and other employees are quite diverse and not necessarily the same as their employers.

“Not the church, not the state” — these are the individuals who should “decide their fate” consistent with their beliefs, consciences and health needs. The religious liberty of all of us should be respected.

News Media

Study: Politicians Dominate Nightly News Reports on Birth Control

Nicole Knight Shine

Study co-author Michelle H. Moniz, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan, noted that news segments largely framed contraception as a political issue, rather than a matter of public health.

When it comes to asking experts to weigh in on birth control, the nation’s three major TV networks favor political figures over doctors, according to a forthcoming paper in the journal Contraception.

Analyzing nightly news segments on contraception on ABC, CBS, and NBC between 2010 to 2014, the authors found that few broadcasts included medical professionals (11 percent) or health researchers (4 percent). Politicians, however, dominated coverage, appearing as sources 40 percent of the time, followed by advocates (25 percent), the general public (25 percent), and Catholic Church leaders (16 percent).

Sixty-nine percent of news segments on birth control included no medical information, the authors found.

Study co-author Michelle H. Moniz, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan, noted that news segments largely framed contraception as a political issue, rather than a matter of public health.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

“Health professionals are an untapped resource for ensuring that the most up-to-date, scientific information is available to the public watching the news,” Moniz said in an email to Rewire.

An estimated 24 million Americans watch nightly news, making it an “influential information source,” the authors note.

And although nearly half of pregnancies in the United States each year are unplanned, news segments did not emphasize highly effective contraception like IUDs, the researchers found. Instead, emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning-after pill, warranted the most coverage, at 18 percent, followed by the daily oral contraceptive pill, at 16 percent.

The researchers’ analysis of 116 nightly news segments coincided with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act by President Obama and continued through the June 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which carved out the right for private corporations to deny birth control coverage to employees on religious grounds.

“We found that when the network television media covers contraception,” the authors observed, “they do so within a largely political frame and emphasize the controversial aspects of contraception, while paying less attention to health aspects and content experts.”

The paper was authored by five researchers from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; the Veterans Affairs Center for Clinical Management and Research in Michigan; and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The study builds on earlier work exposing media bias and gender disparities in reproductive health coverage.

In June, an analysis of prime-time news programs on cable networks CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC by media watchdog group Media Matters for America found that 40 percent of guests on all three networks made anti-choice statements or identified as anti-choice, compared with 17 percent of guests who made pro-choice statements or identified as reproductive rights advocates. On Fox, guests made a total of 705 inaccurate statements about abortion care over a 14-month period.

The nightly news study follows a report earlier this year on gender disparities by the Women’s Media Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, indicating that male journalists dominate reproductive health coverage, with bylines on 67 percent of all presidential election stories related to abortion and contraception. Female journalists, in comparison, wrote 37 percent of articles about reproductive issues.

News Contraception

New Hawaii Law Requires Insurers to Cover a Year’s Supply of Birth Control

Nicole Knight Shine

Insurance companies typically cover only a 30-to-90-day supply of birth control, posing a logistical hurdle for individuals who may live miles away from the nearest pharmacy, and potentially causing some using oral contraceptives to skip pills.

Private and public health insurance must cover up to a year’s supply of birth control under a new Hawaii law that advocates called the nation’s “strongest.”

The measuresigned by state Gov. David Ige (D) on Tuesday, applies to all FDA-approved contraceptive medications and devices.

Hawaii joins Washington, D.C., which also requires public and private insurers to cover up to 12 months of birth control at a time.

Oregon passed a similar measure in 2015, but that law requires patients to obtain an initial three-month supply of contraception before individuals can receive the full 12-month supply—which the Hawaii policy does not.

“At a time when politicians nationwide are chipping away at reproductive health care access, Hawaii is bucking the trend and setting a confident example of what states can do to actually improve access,” Laurie Field, Hawaii legislative director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said in a statement.

Insurance companies typically cover only a 30-to-90-day supply of birth control, posing a logistical hurdle for individuals who may live miles away from the nearest pharmacy, and potentially causing some using oral contraceptives to skip pills. Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend supplying up to one year of oral contraceptives at a time, as the Hawaii Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health noted in a 2016 conference report.

Fifty-sex percent of pregnancies in Hawaii are unintended, compared to the national average of 45 percent, according to figures from the Guttmacher Institute.

Women who received a year’s supply of birth control were about a third less likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy and were 46 percent less likely to have an abortion, compared to those receiving a one- or three-month supply, according to a 2011 study of 84,401 California women published in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Reproductive rights advocates had championed the legislation, which was also backed by ACOG–Hawaii Section, the Hawaii Medical Association, and the Hawaii Public Health Association, among other medical groups.

“Everyone deserves affordable and accessible birth control that works for us, regardless of income or type of insurance,” Planned Parenthood’s Field said in her statement.