On Friday September 21, the National Center for Lesbian Rights attended a symposium at the Georgetown University Law Center on “Contraception and Conscience: A Symposium on Religious Liberty, Women’s Health, and the HHS Rule on Provision of Birth Control Coverage for Employees.”
Anti-choice politicians and groups have tried to generate controversy around the contraception provisions in the preventative care regulations related to the Affordable Care Act. The regulations required that employers offering group health plans must provide certain preventative care to employees without cost-sharing. For women, the required preventative care services were based on a report by the Institute of Medicine, which, among other services, included the following important preventative services: well-woman visits; breastfeeding support; domestic violence screening; and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved contraceptive methods. These contraceptive methods include, among others: prescription contraception, emergency contraception, and intrauterine devices (IUDs).
Subsequently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an additional regulation providing that certain purely religious institutions (such as churches), were exempt from the requirement that their group health insurance plan(s) cover FDA approved contraceptive methods. This type of accommodation for a religious institution is common to strike the appropriate balance between ensuring access to comprehensive care and respecting that some purely religious institutions see such provision as a violation of their faith tenets. Nonetheless, in what some commentators saw as a political ploy to generate criticism of President Obama, more than 40 religiously-affiliated organizations filed lawsuits against HHS, claiming that the exemption for religious groups is too narrow and violates their religious freedom. The symposium explored this legal battle.
This debate has a huge impact on the LGBTQ community. Access to contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion care are important healthcare issues for lesbians, trans people, and bisexual and queer women. It is crucial for the LGBTQ community that comprehensive healthcare and contraception remain fully accessible and affordable for all who need it. This is particularly important for those living in poverty or with low-incomes – who are disproportionately women of color – and are especially vulnerable to these efforts that make care prohibitively expensive. Affordable reproductive healthcare is especially important for queer youth, for reasons that law professor Ruthann Robson points out in this op-ed:[EO4]
[Q]ueer youth are especially vulnerable. They may have engaged in heterosexual sex for a variety of reasons, including coercion, intimidation, camouflage, sexual abuse, or survival/commercial sex. They may also be less likely to use birth control and several studies have documented that lesbian youth are two to ten times more likely to become pregnant than their heterosexual counterparts . . .
NCLR was proud to have been involved in advocacy efforts around the HHS regulation making contraception affordable, as part of a society where all people have the resources they need to make meaningful decisions about the trajectory of their lives. We stand with reproductive justice advocates in supporting affordable contraception as an important part of reproductive healthcare.