Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Q&A on Contraceptive Equity and Religious Discrimination: Budget Provision Thumbs Up

The Wisconsin Assembly just gave the green light to their version of the state budget this weekend. Contraceptive equity was one of the debated items: the policy would require all insurance companies that provide prescriptions to include contraceptive drugs and devices in their coverage.

Birth control is a basic part of health care for women and when most Wisconsinites get their health care through their employer, contraceptive equity is essential to workplace fairness.

But critics of the policy decry religious discrimination, particularly when citing religious-based health care providers' health care benefits for their own employees. The ACLU of Wisconsin supports contraceptive equity and below is a Q&A with Executive Director Chris Ahmuty on how the policy strikes a constitutionally approved balance between the rights of patients, workers and institutions.

Should a nurses’ aide at a hospital owned by a Catholic religious order or the cafeteria lady at a Catholic parochial school be denied access to birth control because their employers’ are offended on “moral grounds”?
No. But, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference appears to want to be able to do just that. The conference has asked the Wisconsin Legislature to exempt Catholic institutions from a provision in the state budget that confirms the duty of all Wisconsin employers to include contraceptive drugs and devices among the drugs covered by their health insurance plans.

Do all employees of all Catholic institutions have to accept that their employers won’t allow them access to birth control even though it is medically indicated and morally acceptable to the employee?
No, unless the members of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference are able to exempt themselves and other Catholic affiliated agencies from fair employment laws regarding health insurance benefits. The conference would discriminate against workers who carry out the same jobs as workers at agencies that are not religiously-affiliated.

Is religious liberty impeded when religiously-affiliated employers are asked to abide by anti-discrimination laws?
No. Wisconsin and federal law already exempts religious institutions from the prohibitions on employment discrimination, if the employee in question is a member of the clergy or a religion instructor.

What should the Wisconsin Legislature do?
The ACLU of Wisconsin urges them to adopt this budget provision that lets all employers know, if they are going to provide prescription coverage in their health insurance plans, they must include contraceptive drugs and devices. The budget provision does not need to be amended. Section 3198d of Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 to AB75 codifies contraceptive equity.

What can I do to get contraceptive equity passed?
The ACLU of Wisconsin is a member of the Prevention First Coalition, a broad-base of organizations that support contraceptive equity and other important reproductive health care policies. You can be a part of the coalition and ask your state Senator to support contraceptive equity today.

Find out more about the work the ACLU is doing on protecting the balance between religious liberty and the right of women to have safe, legal and barrier-free access to reproductive health care.

Also check out Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin's Nicole Safar on Wisconsin Public Radio defending contraceptive equity and women's right to be free from discrimination in insurance coverage.