A controversial provision of the Affordable Care Act took effect Monday as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced guidelines requiring insurance companies to cover women's preventive services, including birth control.
The federal healthcare overhaul made access to preventive care a centerpiece of efforts to hold down costs, and in July the Institute of Medicine released a study making recommendations on what types of care should be available to women. The new guidelines mandate that insurance companies provide a range of services, from birth control to screening for human papillomavirus (HPV) at virtually no cost.
"These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release.
While the Obama administration hailed the decision for bolstering women's health, some religious organizations slammed the guidelines. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of Committee on Pro-Life Activities with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that "pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible."
Proponents of free birth control argue reducing unwanted pregnancies is not just a boon to women's health but to government finances, pointing to the large share of taxpayer financed births at public hospitals result from unwanted pregnancies. Stephanie Cutter, a deputy senior advisor to President Obama, noted that the provision will not stop at birth control but will offer coverage for a range of preventative services, like treatment for gestational diabetes.
"This isn't about abstinence. This is not about preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is about women's health," Cutter said on The Early Show on CBS. "There are known benefits based on the science, based on the experts, based on the independent studies of the Institute of Medicine that keep women healthy, if you lower the cost of contraceptive services."
Lawmakers in Republican-controlled states such as Texas and Indiana have sought to limit access to health care providers that offer abortions in addition to other women's health treatments. Opponents of those measures have argued that abortions constitute a small proportion of the services that agencies such as Planned Parenthood offer, and a federal official ruled that Indiana's attempt to bar clinics that provide abortions from receiving federal Medicaid funding is illegal.