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An all male panel of clergy testifies before Darrell Issa's House Oversight Committee on birth control access. 2/16/2012
Think these experts on birth control will be happy now?
The Obama administration has issued new proposed rules to clarify the provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires insurers to cover birth control—specifically, which religious organizations can qualify for exemption from the mandate. The new proposed rules "would eliminate criteria that a religious employer: 1. have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; 2. primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets; and 3. primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets."

Instead, "[t]he simple definition of 'religious employer' for purposes of the exemption would follow a section of the Internal Revenue Code, and would primarily include churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations."

The administration claims that this merely simplifies and clarifies the definition of "religious employer," and that "this proposal would not expand the universe of employer plans that would qualify for the exemption beyond that which was intended in the 2012 final rules."

Except that it sort of does:

An eligible organization would be defined as an organization that:
  1. opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services required to be covered under Section 2713 of the PHS Act, on account of religious objections;
  2. is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity;
  3. holds itself out as a religious organization; and
  4. self-certifies that it meets these criteria and specifies the contraceptive services for which it objects to providing coverage.
In other words, the exemption no longer applies merely to houses of worship; now any "self-certified" non-profit organizations—hospitals, universities, charities—can opt out of providing insurance coverage of birth control. That doesn't mean women who work for such organizations won't have access to birth control; they will, through a separate insurance plan for which "eligible organizations would not have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds." Those insurers will cover the cost of providing birth control without co-pays because insurance companies understand that it's cheaper to cover the cost of birth control than it is to cover the cost of pregnancy and child birth.

So here's the bottom line: Women with employer-provided insurance will have access to birth control, even if their employer objects and refuses to pay for it. That's very good news.

Now follow me below the fold for the bad news.

Here's the problem with the new proposed rules: It's unlikely to satisfy the very people and organizations who've been objecting, whining, and filing lawsuits to stop the mandate. Because, as they explained to us when the administration first introduced this new policy, anything short of preventing all access to birth control is unacceptable.

That means all those lawsuits currently making their way through the court system, and potentially heading to the Supreme Court, aren't going anywhere. It means all those hysterical threats from, for example, the Catholic bishops aren't going to stop. Calls for civil disobedience, for hunger strikes, even for armed insurrection—those aren't going to end.

There's another problem with this new proposed rule. By setting up separate insurance plans for birth control coverage, the federal government is officially endorsing the idea that reproductive health care is separate from, you know, health care. Which it isn't. Such a concession to the religious organizations further stigmatizes women and their oh-so-mysterious body parts and accepts the inaccurate premise that there's any validity to objections to basic health care on the grounds that Jesus wouldn't like it.

And that's a real problem. Especially when you consider that those who think so are a tiny, if vocal, minority of the country. Because when the administration first proposed this new mandate, Americans overwhelmingly supported it. They like birth control. They want it to be affordable and accessible. And they are completely unconcerned that the provision of basic health care for women violates anyone's freedom. The only people who subscribe to such an absurd notion are Republicans in Congress, who object to everything the administration does no matter how popular it is, and of course the extremist religious organizations, like the Catholic Church, which also thinks it's perfectly reasonable to say that an egg is a person and should have more rights than the woman who carries it—unless, of course, a Church-affiliated hospital is being sued, in which case, not so much.

So, yes, it's important that women have access to affordable birth control, regardless of how their employer feels about it, which is what this mandate and the new proposed rules seek to accomplish. But it's also important that we stop stigmatizing women's health care—from breast cancer screening to birth control to abortion—by legitimizing the objections from those who insist that women should be denied basic health care because it says so in the Bible.

Originally posted to Kaili Joy Gray on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 11:42 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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