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U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up Contraceptive Coverage Guarantee

November 26, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether the owners of for-profit companies can assert religious objections to deny their employees insurance coverage of contraceptive services and supplies in employer-sponsored health plans. The 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) guarantees that most private plans will have contraceptive coverage without cost-sharing for patients. Churches and other houses of worship are exempted from this requirement and an accommodation is in place for religious nonprofit organizations.

However, the administration has determined that private, for-profit businesses cannot claim to be religious employers and are not exempted from providing contraceptive coverage (the U.S. Senate affirmed this decision by rejecting a measure known as the Blunt amendment that would have granted for-profit corporations extensive “conscience” rights). The Court’s decision, if it were to grant for-profit corporations an exemption from covering contraception, could have significant negative effects on affected employees and their dependents—interfering with their ability to reap the well-documented health, social and economic benefits of contraceptive use.

  • Health benefits: A significant body of evidence shows that contraception is basic preventive health care for women. Broadening access to contraceptives by eliminating the daunting barrier that cost poses to effective contraceptive use is a significant gain for women’s health and the health of their families. Removing that barrier for women covered by private health plans not only makes it easier for them to use contraceptives generally, but also allows them to use the most effective methods, like the IUD, which they might not previously have been able to afford due to high upfront costs.
  • Social and economic benefits: Women’s ability to obtain and effectively use contraceptives and thereby delay and space childbearing is crucial to their societal and economic advancement. Contraceptive use has a positive impact on women’s education and workforce participation, as well as on subsequent outcomes related to their income, family stability, mental health and happiness, and the well-being of their children.

Women, of course, know about the myriad benefits of contraception from their own life experience. That’s why virtually all women aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. However, consistent and correct contraceptive use is critical, which is why guaranteeing contraceptive coverage without co-pays for doctor’s visits, patient information and counseling, and for whatever method works best for a woman—regardless of cost—has been such a crucial step forward for millions of U.S. women.

Granting for-profit corporations the right to deny insurance coverage for contraceptive services interferes with the health of women and their families and their social and economic well-being. It would also allow these employers to effectively impose their religious beliefs on their employees, regardless of whether they share their employer’s objection to contraceptive use. Indeed, the opposition to contraceptive use by some religious leaders and individuals does not reflect the beliefs or actions of the vast majority of Americans: Contraceptive use by women of all faiths—including Catholics and evangelicals and those who attend religious services most frequently—is the overwhelming norm in U.S. society.

Requiring for-profit companies to cover the full range of FDA-approved methods for the prevention of pregnancy without any out-of-pocket costs is sound public health policy and contributes to the social and financial well-being of women and their families. Thanks to the contraceptive coverage guarantee that went into effect starting in August 2012, millions of U.S. women are already able to obtain contraceptive services and supplies without cost-sharing. This major advance for women’s health should not be taken away from any of those who already enjoy it—nor should it be denied to any women who stand to gain this benefit going forward.

For more information:

Fact sheet: Contraceptive Use in the United States
Analysis: The Case for Insurance Coverage of Contraceptive Services and Supplies Without Cost-Sharing
Research: Review of Scientific Literature Documents the Significant Social and Economic Benefits of Contraception
Video: Benefits of Contraceptive Use
Infographic: Contraception Is Highly Effective
Research: Contraceptive Use Is the Norm Among Religious Women