ACLU of Massachusetts communications director Christopher Ott wrote this guest blog.
The Obama administration announced today it will keep in place a proposed rule that says birth control is an essential service, and employer health insurance plans must cover birth control without a copay. This will ensure effective birth control is available for millions of women.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lobbied hard to get the administration to widen an existing religious exception to this rule, asking that religious-affiliated employers such as hospitals and social-service organizations be allowed to deny women birth-control coverage, along with churches and other religious bodies. Fortunately, the administration refused to broaden this exemption. By not caving into to the USCCB, the Obama administration has signaled that it will not allow discrimination against women employees by religious-affiliated employers that serve the public--often with taxpayer dollars.
The USCCB has also fought to continue distributing taxpayer funds for victims of human trafficking, with the condition that the money not be used to provide or refer for contraceptive or abortion services--even though these are precisely the kinds of services that many victims of human trafficking need. This is the subject of an ACLU lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Obama administration wisely declined renew its contract with USCCB for the trafficking program. In this case, we wish the administration had taken the opportunity to champion contraception and women's reproductive health and not given the bishops another year to deny women what they need--but at least the White House is standing up for women’s health and will not broaden the exception for contraception in the federal health law either.
All of this is good news so close to the 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade this Sunday, Jan. 22. That anniversary, however, is also a good time to remember that if Roe were ever overturned, a 1981 decision in an ACLU case known as Moe v. Secretary of Administration and Finance would still help to protect reproductive freedom in Massachusetts.
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