The Obamacare provision that requires employer-based insurance plans to offer contraceptive coverage without a co-payment went into effect on August 1, but conservative Catholic institutions are still hoping to defeat it in court. Catholic challengers against the health care reform law claim it violates their religious liberty, despite the fact that the contraception mandate already includes an exemption for religious institutions that shifts the cost of birth control to insurance companies so the religious institutions will not have to directly pay for services that they morally oppose.
In Tennessee, the Diocese of Nashville and seven other local Catholic institutions are adding their own legal challenge to the increasing pile of Catholic lawsuits against the health reform law. However, in addition to not being satisfied with the Obamacare mandate’s existing religious exemption that several federal judges have agreed offers sufficient protection for religious liberty, the Tennessee institutions seem to be misinformed about the true costs of women’s preventative care. The language of the lawsuit suggests that birth control is already “freely available” for women in the United States, so there is no reason they need it to be covered in their insurance plans:
In their suit, the organizations say it’s not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception.
“Those services are and will continue to be freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available,” the suit says.
“But the right to such services does not authorize the Government to force the Plaintiffs to violate their own consciences by making them provide, pay for, and/or facilitate those services to others, contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
In reality, the high cost of contraceptive services — a year’s supply of oral birth control pills, the most common form of contraception, typically costs over $1,200 out of pocket — can be a significant barrier for women. Nearly one in three women report they have stopped using their preferred contraceptive method, or used it less consistently and effectively, because they could not afford it. And health costs already disproportionately fall on women rather than men. Women of reproductive age currently spend about 68 percent more than men do on out-of-pocket health care costs, partly because of high contraception costs.
The lawsuit suggests that the government should take steps to make birth control more widely available to women if it is something the administration supports. The birth control provision of the health care reform law is a step to do just that. The administration is attempting to ensure affordable preventative care for Americans regardless of gender, and it’s not true that “nothing prevents” it from doing so when these Catholic institutions continue to stand in the way.