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Although the Lawsuits Keep Coming, the Birth Control Benefit is a Gain Women Can Celebrate

While the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage benefit makes birth control and quality reproductive health care more accessible and affordable for women than ever before,helping women to avoid unintended pregnancies and better care for themselves and their children, opponents have not given up on their attempts to roll back that progress. These include the U.S. House of Representatives’ 37 ineffective attempts to repeal the federal health care law, and state legislation that attacks the birth control coverage guarantee.

And then there are the lawsuits. The lawsuits just keep coming — many from for-profit companies. The cases are challenging the requirement under the health care law that all new insurance plans provide birth control coverage, without cost-sharing.

A new case was filed last week by a West Virginia-based corporation engaged in selling and servicing motor vehicles. While Holland Chevrolet’s 150 full-time employees receive employer based group health insurance, the company has always denied female employees and dependents access to the full range of birth control. The federal contraceptive coverage benefit would guarantee that each woman covered by Holland Chevrolet’s plan has access to the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives. Holland’s chairman, Joseph Holland, is not satisfied with leaving personal decisions in the hands of his individual employees and their dependents. Where the benefit would guarantee that a woman and her doctor — not her boss — make the decision about which contraceptive method to use, Holland’s lawsuit is trying to guarantee that he’ll be the final and only voice that matters.

Holland isn’t alone in trying to take personal decisions out of the hands of his employees. Currently, 66 cases have been filed against the contraceptive coverage benefit. Thirty-four of those cases have been filed by for-profit companies, and there was a lot of action in these cases in the last week.

Some of it was bad. A district court in Florida temporarily allowed a boss to discriminate against female employees’ and dependents’ freedom to make these personal decisions by allowing a provider of micro-processor technology to get out of complying with the benefit while he pursues his claims in court. Worse still, “a divided 10th Circuit Court of Appeals put at risk access to contraception for more than 13,000 individuals” when it gave a nod to giving Hobby Lobby a temporary pass at providing comprehensive birth control coverage by reversing a lower court decision that protected women’s gains under the federal birth control benefit.

But there is also good news.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld women’s right to make their own decisions when it denied Eden Foods’ request to halt enforcement of the benefit while it pursues its claim in court.

But it’s not just for-profit corporations that want to use religion to discriminate.Thirty-two cases have been filed by non-profit organizations.This past Friday the government issued a final rule on the “accommodation” it will extend to non-profit organizations with religious objections to the contraceptive coverage. Where an eligible non-profit organization objects to providing coverage, the insurance company will pay directly for the contraceptive services of employees and dependents. While the Administration unfortunately allowed churches and houses of worship to deny contraception to their employees, the rule protects most women’s right to access the birth control they need, no matter where they work.

This was a necessary step. Regardless of whether the employer is a for-profit company or a non-profit institution the health consequences for women remain the same. Denying contraceptive coverage harms women. It cuts women off from the tremendous health and social benefits they stand to gain. It runs afoul of existing law. And it is contrary to what the majority of Americans support — that all women should have access to affordable prescription birth control, and that this issue is a matter of women’s health care and access to birth control, not one of religious liberty. Access to birth control is a basic economic and health issue. Women should have the right to make their own decisions with their loved ones, doctors or religious advisors — bosses have no place in that decision making process.

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