When Birth Control Isn’t

This piece was written by Erin Wyner, MD, a family physician and a NPA-California member.  It was originally posted on the Mom’s Rising Blog, 2/27/2012.

As a physician, I am deeply concerned about the extreme opposition from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to important new rules requiring employers that provide health insurance to their employees to include coverage for contraception.  Churches were originally exempt from this rule, and the Obama administration has made an additional accommodation for religious organizations such as hospitals and universities that oppose contraception, requiring instead that the insurance company pays for contraceptive coverage in cases where institutions object on religious grounds.  The Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities support this compromise.  Still, the Bishops are threatening a legislative attack on even these flexible contraceptive coverage provisions.
Why does this matter?  Because the Catholic Church and its subsidiary institutions employ thousands of women who hold no religious bias against birth control.  By blocking access to this legal preventive health service, they are impeding the freedom of their employees.  It is also critical to acknowledge that women take birth control for many reasons beyond contraception: regulation of menstrual cycles and pain, prevention of anemia, endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer, and management of ovarian cysts.  A recent study by the Guttmacher institute indicates that 14% of adult pill users are on the pill exclusively for non-contraceptive reasons, while 58% of women are on the pill at least in part for non-contraceptive reasons, including treatment of endometriosis and menstrual migraines.
I want to be clear: I believe in access to birth control for all individuals, regardless of whether they are teens trying to prevent pregnancy or married 40-year-olds with fibroids.  I also support religious freedom.  Perhaps we can find some common ground in agreeing that women are entitled to appropriate treatment of their medical problems.  Some medical problems are women-specific, and they call for hormonal treatments.  Denying women these treatments is sex-based discrimination, plain and simple.
-By Erin Wyner, MD