Free birth control? Does not provide real health care or protect conscience rights Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Jul. 28, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

Editor's View by Mary C. Uhler

Several things have been bothering me since I heard about the recommendation that the government require coverage of contraceptives in all health plans in our country.

On July 19, the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Preventive Services for Women made public a list of recommendations to the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This department has the responsibility to decide which health services will be mandated under the new national health reform law.

The 16-member panel said that all women of reproductive age should have access to “the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling.” If approved by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, these practices would be mandated for all insurance plans — both public and private — without any co-pays.

In other words, birth control will be provided free of charge. This recommendation is ill-conceived (no pun intended) on so many fronts. It boggles the mind!

Is birth control health care?

To begin with, I think we have a basic misunderstanding about what birth control is. Is birth control health care? In my mind, health care should be provided to help people remain healthy or to treat people who are not healthy.

Birth control methods rarely do either of things, that is, unless we consider pregnancy a disease! There may be instances where use of a condom may help prevent the spreading of a disease, but that would not pertain to giving contraceptives to women of child-bearing age.

If preventing pregnancy is the goal, then providing contraceptives is not the solution either. Many studies have shown that use of contraceptives often fails to prevent pregnancy. The Guttmacher Institute reveals that 48 percent of women with unintended pregnancies and 54 percent of women seeking abortions were using contraception in the month when they became pregnant. (These facts are revealed on the Catholic bishops’ Web site at

Some studies among teens have found that increasing access to contraception may actually increase long-run pregnancy rates. However, policies that decrease access to contraception are likely to lower pregnancy rates in the long run. This may happen because young women are less apt to engage in sexual activity if they think they’re not protected from getting pregnant.

The role of choice and conscience

Besides not really providing health care, contraceptives are also a personal choice — for individuals and for health insurers. If individuals decide to use contraceptives, that is a lifestyle choice and I think they should pay for them in all or part. (Catholic teaching says that artificial means of birth control should not be used in any case.)

Health insurers should also have the right to refuse to pay for contraceptives. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston expressed his opposition to private insurers being forced to cover contraceptives. “Without sufficient legal protection for rights of conscience, such a mandate would force all men, women, and children to carry health coverage that violates the deeply held moral and religious convictions of many,” he said.

Cardinal DiNardo noted that this new discussion of contraception coverage points to the importance of passage of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, H.R. 1197, which would allow health insurance plans to exclude procedures that violate the moral or religious convictions of those providing or purchasing the plan.

I encourage concerned citizens to contact Sebelius at and/or contact their own congressional representatives, emphasizing the importance of really protecting women’s health and at the same time providing conscience protection for individuals and insurers.