President Donald Trump has come under fire from medical associations who say that allowing employers to deny women contraception on religious grounds is a violation of essential healthcare rights.
The Trump administration proposed a rule change on 6 October that would remove contraception from the Affordable Care Act. If enacted, this would mean that employers who disagree with birth control on religious grounds could exclude procedures and medication from their health insurance plans.
In a statement on the same day, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals called the move “unconscionable” and said that it was a clear example of ideological politics oppressing science.
“Contraceptive care is essential health care—not a ‘nice-to-have’ option,” said Wayne Shields, the association’s president. “Gutting access to this important ACA provision would be a slap in the face to every woman in this country.”
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, meanwhile, said that birth control was a “necessity for women during approximately 30 years of their lives”.
Planned Parenthood, a not-for-profit organisation that provides reproductive health services, added that unwanted pregnancy rates in the US were at a 30-year low and that contraception also reduces maternal mortality and ovarian and endometrial cancers.
In contrast, Pro-Life Action League, an anti-abortion organisation, said that it “applauded” Trump’s proposal and that contraception had been wrongly imposed on employers under preventive care provision by the previous president Barack Obama.
“What disease or syndrome does contraception prevent?” asked the league’s executive director Eric Scheidler in an interview with Research Professional. “Pregnancy is not a disease. Fertility is not a condition in women that needs to be treated, but a marker of good health.”
Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, called 6 October “a landmark day for religious liberty”.
Trump administration officials have tried to downplay the potential impact of the proposal on women, but research by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that the proportion of women with out-of-pocket spending on contraceptives has dropped from 21 per cent before Obamacare to 3 per cent today.
James Trussell, professor of public affairs at Princeton University and a board member of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, said that if Planned Parenthood were defunded by the federal government “as the Republicans want it to be”, millions of women would be left without access to birth control.
Although the law change would have no immediate effect on reproductive research, Trussell said that the draft strategic plan issued by the Department of Health and Human Services included a “disturbing reframing” of its mission that would affect access to reproductive healthcare and similar research.
“The new HHS plan includes defining life as ‘beginning with conception’ and explicitly protects religious or moral convictions,” said Trussell. “This would affect research funded by the National Institutes of Health for contraceptives that may have a post-fertilization contraceptive mechanism.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and the states of California, Washington and Massachusetts are suing the Trump administration, claiming that the proposal is unconstitutional because it specifically targets women and goes against the right to equal protection for all.
Story published on Research Europe, October 12 2017