By Teresa Welsh |
The Little Sisters of the Poor is an organization that is not required to provide birth control to its employees under the Affordable Care Act. Churches and religious groups already are exempt or able to opt out of providing birth control, and they have been all along. The only thing the Little Sisters must do is fill out and sign a one-page form stating that it objects to providing contraception, which it must then send to its insurer.
Meanwhile, the federal courts continue to consider whether completing a simple form is a "burden" on the religious liberty of the Little Sisters and other religiously affiliated organizations.
The much bigger issue – which could affect millions of women – will be deliberated by the Supreme Court this spring. In a pair of cases the court has already accepted, the owners of two privately held, for-profit corporations – Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a furniture company – argue that because of their personal beliefs, they should not have to cover two specific forms of birth control for their employees.
If the Supreme Court rules the wrong way in any of these cases, millions of women could be denied coverage for any or all forms of birth control. This is no small matter. Birth control costs can be expensive, often costing women up to $600 a year. Today, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 27 million women have access to birth control without a copay. Birth control is used at some point by more than 99 percent of all sexually active women in this country between the ages of 15 and 44. It enables women to control their reproductive health, plan their pregnancies and manage their lives. Some women also need it for medical reasons, including relief of painful menstrual periods and endometriosis. A woman earning an hourly wage at a crafts store should not have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars out-of-pocket simply because her employer has a personal objection to birth control.
The birth control benefit under the Affordable Care Act does not breach anyone's religious freedom. What is being trampled upon instead is the legislated right of women to have access to preventive medical care. The real issues on the table are health care, financial security, and basic justice for women.
About Dana Singiser Vice President of Public Policy for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Penny Nance President and CEO of Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee
Mary Ann Walsh Sister of Mercy of the Americas and Director of Media Relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Leslie Griffin Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas