Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is praising a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine that insurance companies be required to offer free contraceptives to all women in a report she called " historic," suggesting she may make the recommendation an official policy.
The prospect of free, government-ordered contraceptives and even agents to induce abortion, has ignited a national debate. Some are clearly pleased.
"The request for the study actually came out of the health care legislation and I am pleased that the secretary has indicated that the department will implement it quickly," said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.
"Currently, nearly one in three women finds it difficult to pay for birth control,” Naral Pro-Choice America said in a statement. “We are confident that the Obama administration will adopt... the recommendations.”
But Sandy Rios, a vice president for Family Pac Federal, a conservative political action committee, disagrees.
"It's feminist pork. It's a, it's a wish list, it's a dream list for feminists," she said.
And other conservative groups oppose the move, in part because it would require insurance companies to offer, and employers to provide, services to which they may morally object. That includes the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
“If accepted these recommendations would mean that virtually all private employers, private companies, organizations, such as the USCCB, would be required by law to cover in their insurance to employees, these problematic procedures, drugs and devices,” said USCCB spokeswoman Deirdre McQuade.
The Catholic Bishops don't believe in contraception at all, much less handed out for free at the behest of the government. “Any employer that objects to those uh, does not currently under law have conscience protection to opt out of that coverage,” McQuade said.
But some argue the recommendation advances values held dear by Catholics and others by deterring abortion.
“More than half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. Forty percent of those end in abortion,” said Dr. Cathleen London, a physician and professor at Weill-Cornell Medical College. “So if we want to talk about reducing teenage pregnancy, reducing abortion, contraception and making it easily available without the ridiculously high co-pays that insurance companies are charging, (it) is the way to go.”
Religious conservatives don’t buy it. The problem for many is even more profound than free birth control pills. If Sebelius embraces the recommendations in full, insurance companies would be forced to provide at no cost, such things as Plan B and a drug called Ella.
“Ella, in particular, which was approved for emergency contraception can actually disrupt what the AMA (American Medical Association) calls an established pregnancy after implantation, which by anyone's definition, is an abortion,” McQuade said, adding that can take place days or even weeks into a pregnancy.
Because it is a regulation under the new health care law, Sebelius can make the decision to implement it on her own, without congressional approval. But there is an effort in Congress to pass legislation that would allow those who object to opt out.