This morning, Tea Party Republicans in the House will launch their latest attack on birth control and women’s health. Rep. Joe Pitts, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, will hold a hearing about taking away new preventive benefits from millions of American women. The clear aim of this hearing is to undermine the recent decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that ensures health plans will cover birth control with no co-pays — one of the most popular benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
“This is the latest effort to restrict the critical preventive care of millions of women,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “As I travel across the country, I hear from Republicans, Democrats, clergy and people of faith, and they overwhelmingly support this provision to cover preventive health care.”
Since becoming subcommittee chair, Rep. Pitts has pursued an ideological agenda to undermine women’s health. Most recently, Pitts was the sponsor and pushed for a vote on H.R. 358, a dangerous bill that would have eliminated existing protections for women seeking care in emergency situations.
Earlier this year, the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine recommended that birth control be considered a women’s preventive service and therefore covered by health plans without co-pays. In one of the greatest advancements for women’s health in decades, HHS adopted this recommendation.
Unfortunately, Tea Party Republicans have been quick in their attempts to take this groundbreaking benefit away. As NPR reported, conservatives are stepping up their attacks against birth control as “more and more voices are opposing the provision of birth control for its own sake.”
Specifically, Rep Joe Pitts and House Republican leaders are pushing for the elimination of birth control as a women’s preventive benefit. And if they can’t eliminate the benefit, they want to make it unavailable to people who are employed by religious hospitals, universities, parochial schools, and similar organizations. These organizations employ and serve individuals of different faiths and backgrounds.
The current women’s preventive provision already includes an unfair refusal clause that exempts certain religious employers from offering this essential coverage to their employees. It’s important to highlight that birth control use is nearly universal in the United States: 99 percent of sexually experienced women will have used birth control at some point in their lives, including 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women.
“We know that access to birth control is fundamental to improving women’s health and the health of their families,” said Richards. “That’s why a majority of Americans, regardless of their religious background, support the HHS decision to expand access to birth control.”
Seventy-one percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters and 72 percent of Republican women, support health plans covering birth control without co-pays.
Dr. Mark Hathaway, director of ob/gyn outreach services for Women's and Infants' Services at the Washington Hospital Center, is expected to testify at the hearing on the impact this new benefit will have on women’s health.