After the Department of Health and Human Services announced its decision to require full contraceptive coverage on all new insurance plans after January 2012, Georgetown Professor Dr. Hal Lawrence, in a commendable break with official University policy, spoke out in favor of the change. In his capacity as vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Lawrence said, “The women of this country deserve no less than access to all comprehensive and clinically effective preventative care.”
It is a striking display of support, especially from a professor at a Catholic university that forbids the sale of any contraceptives on school grounds. Such opposition downplays the fact that these contraceptive and screening services are crucial to a woman’s health: family planning allows women to ensure that they are healthy enough to endure a physically and psychologically straining pregnancy. Furthermore, Lawrence explained, contraceptive services reduce infant mortality, complications of pregnancy, and birth defects.
Despite the many benefits of these services, they are often prohibitively expensive, even under some insurance plans. This is partially due to the longterm nature of most contraceptives. To be effective, they must be taken continuously for a long period of time. Adequate insurance coverage is absolutely necessary to ensure that women have access to these services. Given the backlash against contraceptive coverage in conservative circles, it is critical that proponents of women’s health vocalize their support. Lawrence’s advocacy is especially laudable since it stands at odds with University policy.
The details of the new regulation have yet to be finalized. One potential caveat to the comprehensive mandate is a conscience clause that would allow religious institutions like Georgetown to opt out of the coverage. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly criticized the earliest version of the conscience clause, saying it is narrow enough to exclude most Catholic schools. ACOG, on the other hand, came out against such a religious exemption, claiming that it would erode a woman’s right to comprehensive birth control.
In the interest of protecting women’s health and preventing abortions, Georgetown should not seek a religious exemption. Rather, the University should prioritize health over personal religious conviction—a woman’s wellness should never be jeopardized by her employer’s religious identification.