It should be unthinkable for employers and health institutions to be allowed to make decisions about women’s health needs for them. And it should be unquestionable that access to family planning services, including contraception and sterilization, are vital to comprehensive health care for women.
Last Wednesday, November 2, 2011, Rep. Joseph Pitts (PA) called a hearing entitled “Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care” in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Health, part of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Despite the fact that studies show that 98-99% of sexually active women have used a modern form of contraception, some members of the Subcommittee value the preferences of employers over the right of women to be healthy and to choose what they need to be healthy.
Unfortunately, the unthinkable and the unquestionable are the reality that women face on a daily basis when they seek to meet their health care needs and the question “Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?” is only the latest rhetorical weapon in the war on women.
Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is in charge of determining the rules that will guide the implementation of health reform, recognized the vital role that family planning options, including contraception and sterilization, play in maintaining women’s health. With this mind, and in keeping with the ACA’s broader aim of replacing our reactive treatment-based approach to health care with a preventative wellness-focused approach, HHS required that almost all health plans provide coverage for contraception and sterilization. This rule contains an exception for certain religious employers, though religiously-affiliated universities and hospitals express concern that the included exception is not wide enough to allow them to escape providing resources that overwhelming majorities of women require and desire to maintain their health.
H.R. 1179 was introduced to close this “loophole,” and would allow an individual health worker to refuse to provide or refer for any service she holds a moral objection to. This legislation goes further even, effectively granting consciences and moral compasses to a variety of health care institutions, including hospitals and health insurance plans, and legally authorizing them to refuse any care to anyone, if it would offend the institution’s morality to do otherwise.
Beliefs about prescription contraceptives are personal ones. A woman should not be cut off from accessing legitimate medical and professional services based on the religious beliefs of her institutional employer or insurance provider.
Preventive care for all women produces better health outcomes for all. We look forward to working with HHS more on this issue and we hope you join us as we work to eliminate health disparities among Latinas and other women of color.