Apr 09, 2013

The federal government should protect Americans’ access to contraceptive coverage, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In comments submitted to HHS, Americans United urged the department to reject demands from conservative religious interest groups that seek to curb access to contraceptives under the guise of religious liberty.

“Americans want and deserve access to safe and affordable birth control,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Put simply, the decision to use contraceptives is a personal matter and should be governed by the individual, not powerful sectarian lobbies.”

Under the Obama administration’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act, most employers are expected to offer a health-care policy that includes no-cost birth control. Houses of worship and ministries are exempt from the requirement, and other accommodations have been made for religiously affiliated entities, such as church schools and hospitals.

But the Roman Catholic hierarchy and some Religious Right groups say that’s not enough. They are pressing for a broad exemption that would permit even secular corporations to deny their workers contraceptive coverage if the business owners have personal religious objections to birth control.

Americans United says the demands by religious groups go too far and argues that they subject employees to dogmatic views held by a corporation’s owners.

AU’s April 8 comments note that the proposed HHS regulations don’t force anyone to use birth control. Furthermore, contraceptives are just one of many benefits offered under comprehensive health-care plans, and the decision to use them rests with the individual employee as guided by his or her doctor.

“In the end, the provision of a comprehensive set of health-care benefits is really no different than the provision of a paycheck; employees are free to utilize both kinds of benefits in any manner that they wish, and the employer cannot reasonably be perceived to support or endorse any particular use thereof,” asserts AU in the comments. “Thus, the requirement that entities include insurance coverage for contraceptives as part of group insurance plans places no substantial burden on the employer.”

The comments also say that more than enough has been done to accommodate religious groups.

“The current exemption and accommodation far surpass necessity, and the Administration should reject further arguments to extend them,” argues AU.

The comments were drafted by AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett.