Senate blocks controversial birth control amendment
Senate Democrats narrowly blocked a controversial amendment that would exempt corporations and non-religious organizations from providing contraceptive coverage to employees.
The Senate voted 51 to 48 today to defeat Senate Amendment 1520 proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mont.). The Blunt amendment would allow insurance plan “purchasers, plan sponsors, and other stakeholders with religious or moral objections” to not cover birth control and other health services.
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans are required to cover “essential health benefits” and “preventive services,” which include women’s health services such as mammograms, domestic violence screening, and contraceptions, without charging co-pays or deductibles beginning in August.
Aside from planning pregnancies, contraception is often prescribed by doctors to prevent ovarian cancer and treat medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis. In fact, 99% of American women use birth control at some point in their lives. The non-partisan Institute of Medicine has recommended that all insurance plans cover contraceptions to prevent unintended pregnancies that increase “the risk of babies being born preterm or at a low birth weight, both of which increase their chances of health and developmental problems.”
However, nearly half of the women between ages of 18 and 34 have reported difficulties in paying for contraceptions, which could range from $60 to more than $100 per month without insurance coverage. By adopting the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation to require all health insurance plans to cover contraception, the Affordable Care Act would make contraception a lot more affordable for women.
After listening to concerns raised by religious organizations about the mandate, President Barack Obama extended a compromise to accommodate religiously-affiliated institutions and hospitals that object to offering birth control while allowing women to still receive contraceptive coverage from insurance companies.
“If a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company -– not the hospital, not the charity -– will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles. The result will be that religious organizations won’t have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly,” Obama explained. “These employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services. But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women, and they’ll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries.”
On the other hand, the Blunt amendment would have permitted any employer, including for-profit corporations, to refuse coverage of any health services required under the Affordable Care Act by citing ambiguous “moral” objections. Preventive health services that could be denied coverage under the amendment include birth control, prenatal care, HIV testing, mental health services, cervical cancer screening, vaccinations, Type 2 diabetes screenings, and other women’s health services.
“This is a political and ideological overreach, not a religious issue. The fact that they want to exempt all businesses from providing any preventive care for a woman is outrageous and a clear, callous disregard for the health and well-being of America’s women,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). “The decisions of whether a woman takes one medicine or another, or what type of health care she should have access to, should not be the decision of her boss–a commonsense, simple principle, that bosses and employers should not make these very personal decisions. What could be more intrusive than that?”
- Thomas.LOC.gov: Senate vote on motion to table Blunt Amendment No. 1520
- Thomas.LOC.gov: Bill Summary of Senate Amendment 1520
- Thomas.LOC.gov: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s statement on Feb. 29, 2012
- WhiteHouse.gov: Remarks by President Obama on preventive care (Feb. 10, 2012)
- WhiteHouse.gov: FACT SHEET: Women’s Preventive Services and Religious Institutions
- HealthCare.gov: Affordable Care Act
- Institute of Medicine: Clinical Preventive Services for Women: Closing the Gaps
- Institute of Medicine: Testimony of Dr. Linda Rosenstock on preventive services for women before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee on Feb. 16, 2012 (PDF)
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Sandra Fluke testifies on why women should be allowed access to contraception and reproductive health care
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Rep. Elijah Cummings attacks Republican ‘morality’ bill allowing corporations to arbitrarily deny women prenatal & contraceptive care
- WhatTheFolly.com: Full text of the Blunt amendment on contraceptive coverage