Proponents of a federal requirement giving women more access to contraception say the rule isn't unconstitutional and already has been revised to take into account the views of religious groups.
The original U.S. Health and Human Services Department mandate, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, fills a need, they say. In addition to a range of preventive reproductive health care services for women, the mandate requires employers to provide health insurance plans covering forms of contraception approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“One of the singularly important parts of the Affordable Care Act is the focus on preventive medicine,” said Betty Cockrum, president/CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Indiana.
The preventive medical care provided by Planned Parenthood, including reproductive and contraceptive education, “is an unmet need,” Cockrum said.
She pointed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proclamation that the legalization of birth control is one of the top 10 advances in public health care in the last 100 years. The movement was started by nurse Margaret Sanger in 1912.
Planned Parenthood advocates for planning pregnancies and being “affirmative about when to become a parent,” Cockrum said.
“The results of failed parenting go way beyond the home," she said. "Anything that has a favorable effect on that will be with us for years to come.”
The U.S. Supreme Court already has ruled against those who would use religion as a means to prevent the Health and Human Services requirement, said attorney Rosalie Levinson, a professor of law at Valparaiso University.
“Individual religious liberty does not trump public law,” Levinson said.
One in three women can’t afford contraception, she said, and women who have ovarian cysts and endometriosis need to take birth control pills. Others’ lives are put at risk by pregnancy, including those who have lupus, Levinson said.
In terms of violating religious liberty as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, Levinson said the HHS mandate presents “a very low burden to religious freedom” and “is not a direct affront to religious liberty.”
More frightening constitutionally, she said, is the attempt by private companies, including Hobby Lobby, to join in the religious freedom movement. The company is owned by Christians who have argued they shouldn’t be required to provide contraceptive care in their health insurance plans because of their own religious beliefs.
“That is a frightening doctrine,” Levinson said.
In addition, there already have been some major revisions to the law to accommodate houses of worship and religious-affiliated groups, said Samuel S. Flint, associate director with the Indiana University Northwest School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Gary.
“The Obama administration has backed down,” said Flint, who also is an associate professor.
The original HHS mandate took effect Aug. 1. Flint cited regulations published in the Federal Register on Aug. 3 that exempt “churches, their integrated auxiliaries and conventions or associations of churches, as well as the exclusively religious activities of any religious order” from being required to provide private health insurance covering contraceptives.
Those religious affiliation groups with less than 50 employees serve and employ those of their own religious group, Flint said.
In addition, nonprofit organizations that currently don’t qualify for that exemption are granted a yearlong exemption while the situation is studied, he said.
Providing for prostate cancer screenings for men and not reproductive health screening for women in a health care plan is discrimination against women, Flint said.
“The important thing is there is nothing in the law that says you have to purchase this service (contraceptive care),” he said. “I’m more concerned with the 50 million Americans who currently don’t have health insurance.”