by Jacqueline M., Planned Parenthood Action Fund

We were thrilled with President Obama’s decision a few weeks ago to protect access to birth control for women who work at religiously affiliated universities, hospitals, or institutions. By not further expanding a refusal clause to the birth control coverage benefit under the Affordable Care Act, he is insuring that these women receive the same benefit as millions of others across America.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as happy as we are. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have refused to accept the president’s decision and accused the administration of infringing on their religious liberty, despite the fact that there already exists an exemption for churches and places of worship. Nevertheless, many have announced their refusal to comply with the mandate.

The reality is that since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and particularly since the initial policy was announced in August, there has been a faction, both within Congress and among some in the anti-choice community, who have not only opposed it, but fought it tooth and nail. And as we’ve seen most recently during the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation situation, there are those who will try to bully their way to policies that the vast majority didn’t ask for and don’t support.

When it comes to women’s health, and particularly birth control, they are completely out of touch. Birth control is overwhelmingly popular, not just among women, but specifically among Catholic women voters (77 percent support this birth control benefit). And yet, these men continue to object…

Here are seven things you need to know about this issue that the media’s not really talking about:

1. Americans Overwhelmingly Support Including Birth Control as Preventive Health Care
Ninety-nine percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 who have had sex with men have at some point used birth control. So it’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular benefits of the health care reform law. Here’s what the public thinks

• Seventy-one percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters, support a requirement that health plans cover birth control at no cost, according to a 2010 survey.
• A similar poll in May of 2011 found that 77 percent of Americans believe that private medical insurance should cover birth control and 74 percent believe that government-sponsored plans should do the same.

2. Access to Birth Control Improves Women’s Health Outcomes
The respected, nonpartisan Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended birth control be covered as a women’s preventive service for a reason: it is fundamental to improving women’s health and the health of their families — medical research has demonstrated this fact for decades. For example, improved access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality.

3. Many Women Struggle with the Cost of Birth Control
A 2010 survey found that more than a third of female voters have struggled to afford prescription birth control at some point in their lives, and as a result, had used birth control inconsistently. This isn’t surprising: co-pays for birth control pills typically range between $15 and $50 per month. Other methods, such as IUDs, often cost several hundred dollars, even with health insurance.

4. Any Expansion of the Refusal Provision Could Limit Millions of Americans and Their Families from Access to Birth Control
Nearly 800,000 people who receive benefits through Catholic hospitals would lose them. Approximately two million students and workers attend universities that have a religious affiliation. That’s millions of American workers who would lose a benefit that finally makes an essential health care service affordable.

5. Courts Have Already Ruled That Religious Organizations Operating Hospitals, Universities, or Charities That are Open to the Public are not Entitled to Expansive Exemptions
The state supreme courts in California and New York both found that contraceptive equity laws with narrower exclusions for employers do not substantially burden religious beliefs or practices. “[W]hen a religious organization chooses to hire nonbelievers it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.” (case citation: Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany v. Serio, 859 N.E.2d 459, 468 (N.Y. 2006).

6. Failing to Provide Women with Coverage for Contraception in Health Plans That Otherwise Cover Prescription Drugs and Devices is Sex Discrimination
Prescription contraceptives are used exclusively by women. Because of this, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has argued that the exclusion of insurance coverage for prescription contraceptive drugs and devices in an employer’s health plan that covers prescription drugs violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

7. Both President Obama and Vice President Biden Opposed the Expansion of “Conscience” Clauses in 2008 as Senators
In the final month of the Bush administration, the Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt issued a draft regulation that would have allowed doctors, nurses, pharmacists and a broad spectrum of health care workers the right to refuse to perform or discuss abortion or any other activity they find morally objectionable. As senators, both President Obama and Vice President Biden signed a letter (link) sent to Secretary Leavitt urging him to halt movement on the rule. Obama said, “[This proposed regulation] raises troubling issues about access to basic health care for women, particularly access to contraceptives. We need to restore integrity to our public health programs, not create backdoor efforts to weaken them.”

If you believe the president made the right decision protecting birth control coverage, tell him you support the no-cost birth control policy by adding your voice today.

Cross-posted with Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Women Are Watching Blog

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.