Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

"Courting Anarchy": The Battle over Contraceptive Coverage

By Anna GrosshansPublished April 6, 2014

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By Anna Grosshans, 04/06/2014 The birth control requirement of the Affordable Care Act has been generating a lot of controversy, but in 2014, birth control is not, in fact, controversial.

By Anna Grosshans, 04/06/2014
After reviewing recent news stories relating to women's rights and reproductive health, I am concerned that the United States is regressing to the 1950s.  Two for-profit corporations, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, are arguing that they should be exempt from providing employees with insurance plans that cover contraceptives because the requirement pressures the corporations' owners to violate their religious beliefs.  This case has been generating a lot of controversy surrounding the birth control requirement of the Affordable Care Act.  Yet, in 2014, the acceptance of birth control as basic, preventive healthcare is not, in fact, controversial. 

A friend and I were chatting about the controversy this morning when he said that the government should not be able to tell a Catholic corporation that they have to provide birth control if it is against their beliefs.  Well, frankly, a corporation should not be able to impose religious beliefs on its employees in the first place. 

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods are not religious enterprises, even though their owners hold strong religious beliefs.  These owners may choose not to use birth control themselves if it contradicts their personal religious beliefs, but I emphasize that those beliefs are personal.  People should use their beliefs to guide them through their own lives, but they cannot force those beliefs on others. 

This is a cornerstone of American ideals and freedom.  The U.S. values a separation of Church and State.  We have been through this and we have already fought this fight.  In fact, over two decades ago, Supreme Court Justice Scalia (a conservative Catholic) said that granting corporations exceptions to laws based on religious beliefs would be "courting anarchy."

A common argument against the contraceptive coverage requirement is that women who want birth control have the choice to pay for it out of pocket.  But here is the issue: forcing women to pay for contraception out of pocket really does not leave them with a choice at all.  A recent study found that over half of American women were unable to use birth control consistently (and thus effectively) at some point in their lives because they were unable to afford it.  When employers remove coverage of contraceptives from their healthcare plans, they may be removing their employees' option to use birth control altogether.

It should not be overlooked that many women use birth control for many reasons besides controlling fertility.  It is common for women to take birth control to combat ovarian cysts and regulate their menstrual cycles.  This is not to minimize the importance of birth control as a contraceptive, but rather to emphasize that there are myriad reasons behind women's personal medical choices.  Employers do not have the right to meddle in these decisions.

I have also heard people talk about contraceptive coverage as "free" birth control.  But in reality, it is not free.  It is a reimbursement for their labor and a part of their earned compensation package.  That is what health insurance is in this country.  Many people even take and leave jobs based on the available health insurance plans.  Health insurance coverage is part of their paycheck, and when women are forced to pay for their birth control out of pocket, they take a pay cut.

The bottom line is that no corporation should be able to block an employee's access to basic, preventive healthcare.  By forcing employees to pay for birth control out of pocket, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods are limiting women's ability to make important personal decisions about their bodies, health, and lives.  Many women are unable to pay for birth control out of pocket, and access to basic healthcare should never be based on how much someone makes.