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Support Contraceptive Coverage for All Women: Sign the State Legislator Letter to HHS

The recent blowback against the Obama administration's efforts to guarantee access to basic health care like contraceptives threatens to endanger the health of women across the nation.

As similar attacks threaten to spread to the state level, state legislators standing up and fighting back.

Please join leaders from state legislatures across the nation in supporting efforts to ensure that all women have access to contraceptive coverage. Read and then co-sign the letter from the Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius below.

(Note: This sign-on letter is intended for state legislators only.)

February 16, 2012

TO: Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Department of Health and Human Services

Dear Madame Secretary,

As you move forward in determining essential health benefits that must be included in health plans, the Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform strongly supports the Administration’s position that all women are offered contraceptive coverage regardless of the religious affiliation of their employer. In focusing on religious freedom, the opposition disregards the real issue at stake in this fight: women’s health.

The recent emphasis on religion distorts the fact that contraceptive services have been provided by employers or insurers for decades in most states. Contraceptive services are included in employees’ health care plans in 28 states, and Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin require all employers to provide contraceptive services, regardless of religious affiliation. An additional four states—Arizona, California, New York, and Rhode Island— exempt providing contraceptive services only for churches that employ mostly members of their own faith. In ensuring that women have access to contraceptives, the Administration is following the example already set a majority of states legislatures.

In supporting the Administration’s position on contraceptive coverage, the Working Group would like to emphasize the following points:

*Women’s health is more important than polarizing politics*

Not taken into account in this debate about religion is women’s access to health care, particularly among lower-income women. If paid entirely out of pocket, birth control typically costs about $50 per month for brand-name pills but can increase to hundreds of dollars for IUDs and longer-lasting methods, not including payments for visits to doctors. A 2010 study found that 55% of young women aged 18-34—those most likely to experience unintended pregnancies—had at some point struggled to afford birth control.

Limiting access to contraceptives departs from the reality of the vast numbers of women who use birth control. While the Catholic Church is officially against the use of contraceptives, studies have shown that over 98% of Catholic women have used some form of birth control. More than half of Catholics and 55% of Americans in general support the Administration’s position that employers should provide contraceptive coverage at no cost. Even Catholic charities recognize the importance of birth control in women’s health, with Catholic Health Association, which is the largest nonprofit health care provider in the nation, supporting the Administration’s revised proposal where insurance companies rather than employers provide contraceptive coverage at no cost. In ensuring that women have access to contraception either through their employer or insurer, the Administration has ensured that all women, rather than their employers, are able to make their own reproductive health decisions.

*Health benefits of contraception*

Access to contraception is so important to women’s health that a non-partisan Institute of Medicine panel recommended that birth control be included free of charge to all women. Many women are prescribed contraceptives—such as oral contraceptives—for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. By over-simplifying the health benefits of contraceptive use to equate only with avoidance of pregnancy, other health benefits of contraceptive use are ignored.

For women who do use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, the more available contraceptives are, the less the number of unintended pregnancies and the less number of abortions. As such, access to contraceptives is essential for women’s health and the overall American health system. By ensuring that women have access to essential health services such as contraception, the Administration is demonstrating that it cares more for women’s health than partisan politics.

The Working Group appreciates your consideration of the aforementioned importance of contraception access and looks forward to working with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Administration in implementing key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Sincerely,

Karen Keiser, Chair, Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform

Members of the Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform
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For more information, contact Julia Crowley at jcrowley@progressivestates.org or (202) 730-7433.