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US health insurance to cover birth control – but not for everyone

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Summary of story from Mother Jones, August 12, 2011

Last week the Obama administration announced that US health insurance plans must cover preventative health care for women at no extra cost.

The news that contraception would be fully covered was met with approval by women all over the USA.

However, the new regulations contain a religious refusal clause, also known as a ‘conscience clause’, exempting ‘certain religious employers’ from having to cover the cost of contraception if doing so would contradict their belief system.

Religious groups say the wording of the clause is far too weak and could result in religious institutions providing birth control against their wishes.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) – the official arm of the Catholic hierarchy in America – says the government is seeking ‘to force church institutions to buy contraceptives’ for their employees.

Women’s groups, on the other hand, argue that the clause should not be included in the regulations at all.

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said she did not understand how the US Department of Health and Human Services could have a greater right to protect corporations rather than protect individuals.

She argued that access to birth control is a vital component of preventative health care for women.

It might prove the difference between a woman using contraception and having a healthy family versus not being able to afford contraception and dealing with unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies.

She has urged Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to remove any trace of a conscience clause from the Affordable Care Act’s recommendations, pointing out that women’s health and their well-being are only too frequently endangered by refusal clauses.

The guidelines will be finalised after a 60-day comment period.

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