Saturday, March 10, 2012

The argument for ending religious discrimination against women taking birth control

The “festival of point missing” continues, with a call by celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred to prosecute Rush Limbaugh on defamation charges based on an obscure Florida law against “falsely and maliciously imputing to [a woman] a want of chastity.” Now the broader “fight against media misogyny” has a legal case. I wonder what George Carlin would say about all this?

But I digress. In this post I want to quickly summarize the basic arguments behind Obama’s insurer mandate to provide birth control and provide some primary sources on the issue since they have received so little attention in the news, pundit-sphere, or my social media feeds.

Notwithstanding the misguided economic arguments of Rabiddoggs, the Obama compromise requires insurers to cover contraception if a religious organization chooses not to. The mandate is believed to be cost neutral and seeks to:

  • Eliminate religious discrimination against women in their medical care delivery and coverage.
  • Promote women’s health and optimal birth outcomes through insurance coverage of contraceptives.

Eliminating religious discrimination against women

Insurers who offer other preventative care or prescription drug coverage but refuse to offer birth control (because of the employer’s religious objections or other reasons) have “circumscribed the treatment options available to women, but not to men,” thus violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (EEOC, 2000).

The Obama compromise requires insurers to directly offer contraceptive coverage free of charge if a religious employer objects to providing the coverage. By doing this, he seeks to end the discrimination against women without infringing on the religious freedom of employers who do not want to provide coverage for birth control due to religious objections.

Promoting women and children’s health

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “at least 26 states have laws requiring insurers that cover prescription drugs also provide coverage for any Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved contraceptive.” However, “twenty-one states offer exemptions from contraceptive coverage, usually for religious reasons.”

The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine recently recommended to the Obama Administration that women’s preventive services include a ”fuller range of contraceptive education, counseling, methods, and services so that women can better avoid unwanted pregnancies and space their pregnancies to promote optimal birth outcomes.”


The Obama mandate is believed to be cost neutral (unwanted pregnancies and cervical cancers are surely more costly than birth control pills?). It doesn’t make birth control readily available over the counter, but it would end religious discrimination against women in contraceptive care and coverage and promote women and children’s health without (apparently) infringing on anyone’s pocket book or religious freedoms. This seems like a reasonable approach to close “critical gaps in preventive services for women” and “further ensure women's health and well-being.”

Primary Sources

“Clinical Preventive Services for Women: Closing the Gaps.” Institute of Medicine. National Academy of Sciences. 19 Jul. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2012. <>

“Decision on Coverage of Contraception.” The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 14 Dec. 2000. Web. 10 Mar. 2012. <>

“FACT SHEET: Women’s Preventive Services and Religious Institutions.” Office of the Press Secretary. The White House. 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2012. <>

“Insurance Coverage for Contraception Laws.” National Conference of State Legislatures. Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2012. <>

“Women Who Obtain Birth Control Over the Counter in Mexico More Likely to Continue Use, New Research Shows.” The University of Texas at Austin. 23 Feb. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2012. <>

Dailard, Cynthia. “Contraceptive Coverage: A 10-Year Retrospective.” The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy. June 2004, Volume 7, Number 2. Guttmacher Institute. Jun. 2004. Web. 10 Mar. 2012. <>

Finley, Ben. “Cloudy Contraception Costs.” Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. 24 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2012. <>



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