The Obama Administration has opened its proposal to require contraception be provided by insurance companies without a co-pay fee to public comment through September 30, 2011. Please take a moment to voice your support for this historic expansion of preventative health care. Encourage these departments to reject efforts by religious groups to allow broad exceptions to these guidelines on religious or "conscience" grounds.
As you may know, on August 1st, 2011, the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor, and Department of Health and Human Services jointly announced new guidelines for access to preventative care. The new regulations greatly expand access to preventative care under the new health care act, particularly for women. One of the most significant changes is the provision that all FDA-approved contraceptives (including emergency contraception), as well as contraceptive counseling and education, shall be provided without a co-pay fee.(The proposal also requires that group and individual health insurance providers offer services such as wellness visits, screening for gestational diabetes, and HPV and other STD testing without a co-pay charge.)
Ironically, while these provisions are almost certain to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S., religious groups are fighting these health services and demanding broad exemptions based on religious and "conscience" grounds. Contraceptive access is critical to women's overall well-being and should not depend on receiving "permission" from religious institutions.
Under the new guidelines, a few groups qualify for exemption from providing these services. Among those exempt are group health plan sponsors whose primarily purpose is religious indoctrination and who primarily employ and serve only members who share their religious tenets.
FFRF would prefer that no religious employer exemption be provided. However, some religious groups are agitating for broader exemptions, as described in this Huffington Post article. They want to grant religious third parties the right to deny medical care and FDA-approved treatment on the basis of personal "conscience" – without regard to the conscience of the women who are actually impacted by these preventative services! Reproductive rights opponents, particularly Catholic and evangelical organizations, are lobbying to expand this narrow exception so that any organization even vaguely affiliated with religion (such as denominational hospitals open to the public) can deny basic healthcare to women in need of contraception and contraceptive counseling.
Given that the alternative is expanding the exemption, FFRF supports the current exemption provision and encourages you to make use of the public comment period to do the same.
Allowing providers to deny coverage based on a personal religious belief is unconscionable. It creates such nightmare scenarios as the rape victim denied emergency contraception by a Catholic hospital, or the working class family who cannot afford the often steep price of contraceptives to bear the burdensome cost of an unplanned pregnancy — a very real and likely byproduct of expanding the religious employer exemption.
The matter of whether or not to utilize family planning options is a private decision for individuals – not employers, priests, pastors, or other evangelists. These individuals remain free to misguidedly preach against contraceptive use from the pulpit, but they cannot be allowed to deny access to these critical, legal services in their capacity as health care or insurance providers.
Ensure that all women have access to contraception care – support the new health regulations and tell the government to reject the Religious Right's efforts to expand the "religious employer" exemption!
Contact the Department of Health and Human Services and include the reference code CMS-9992-IFC2 in your comment. You may submit your comment
1. Electronically at http://www.regulations.gov
2. By regular mail to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: CMS-9992-IFC2, P.O. Box 8010, Baltimore, MD 21244-8010. Because your comment must be received by September 30, make sure to allow for delivery time.
3. By express or overnight mail to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: CMS-9992-IFC2, Mail Stop C4-26-05, 7500 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21244-1850.
Please note that all comments submitted will be available for public viewing on the governmental website, so exercise your own best judgment before revealing personally identifiable or confidential information in your comments. You can comment anonymously, and you may also review posted comments at http://www.regulations.gov.
Thank you for your support in keeping religion out of individuals' personal medical care!