By Zoe Smith
As of October 6, 2017, the Trump administration imposed interim rules concerning the coverage of contraceptives and protection of religious beliefs. The temporary regulations expand the right of an individual or entity to exclude contraceptive coverage from employer health plans due to religious beliefs that object to the use of contraceptives, according to one of the rules issued by the Department of the Treasury. Previously, such individuals and institutions were required to provide women with some form of contraception under the Affordable Care Act. The Health Resource and Service Administration has added this objecting entities provision to its Women’s Preventive Service Guidelines which outlines the types of preventative services women may receive, the Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines for health insurance coverage of those services, and the frequency of that coverage.
The change in the contraceptive mandate, while affecting just one of the outlined preventative services, is quite expansive. The types of groups and institutions that the new guidelines extend to include: churches, nonprofit organizations, for-profit entities, higher education, and other health insurance issuers. While it is completely reasonable for such institutions to not want to pay for a service that their faith does not support, it is important for them to recognize the bigger scope of why contraception is a women’s health necessity, not solely a means for preventing unwanted pregnancies.
There are many health benefits for women, especially for teens, who rely on birth control for reasons unrelated to sex, such as menstrual-related disorders and irregular menses. These issues are particularly common in younger girls during adolescence. A study conducted by Rachel K. Jones found that 82 percent of women ages 15-19 who use oral contraceptives do so for non-contraceptive reasons, 33 percent of whom reported using the pill solely for non-preventative purposes. Applying this statistic to the 2013 population estimate of 15-19-year-olds, almost 8.5 million of those women would not be able to utilize the pill for health related reason, 3.4 million of whom solely use the pill for non-sex related purposes. For the 8 percent of women ages 15-19 who have never had sex and take the pill, almost all of them do so for non-preventative reasons. The most common of those reasons is for menstrual pain, which Jones found about 54 percent of the women reported utilizing the pill to manage. Other healthcare-related reasons the group reported using the pill for was managing menstrual regulation (33 percent) and acne (30 percent).
On a larger scale, 18 percent of all women use oral contraception, and of those women, 58 percent use oral contraception for health-related reasons. These reasons not only include regulation of menstrual pain and acne experienced by many younger women, but also other reasons such as the prevention of endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and primary ovarian insufficiency, according to the Center for Young Women’s Health. However, the Trump administration has chosen to allow individuals and institutions to deny women access to healthcare that could resolve such health problems based off their own religious beliefs and practices because such measures are also means of contraception even though there are 1.5 million women who take the pill solely for reasons unrelated to sex and pregnancy prevention.
Individuals and institutions have the right to practice their own religious beliefs, but there is debate as to whether they have a right to legally deny consumers from this form of healthcare. The attorney generals of both Massachusetts, Maura Healey, and California, Xavier Becerra, have filed lawsuits to block the new rules, according to the New York Times. Their problem with the new rules is their conflicting nature with the First Amendment’s power to bar government action “respecting an establishment of religion.” The new rules are making consumers adhere to the religious practices of the individuals and institutions they receive their healthcare from. Just because an institution provides a healthcare plan that includes contraception doesn’t mean that all women having that plan will utilize that option, or that the people within the institution have to partake in the use of their own plan. Women who do not believe in the use of birth control are free to not utilize that aspect of their plan, while others whose faith allows them to use is are also free to have access to this kind of healthcare. It is ultimately the choice of the consumer and their faith, not the supplier’s, but the new rules have now given institutions the opportunity to reverse this.
While there is no way for institutions to know whether individuals they supply healthcare to would use the contraception solely for non-preventative reasons, not providing the option for contraceptives, as permitted by this new rule, will inhibit over 11 million women from receiving the healthcare they need.