Editorial: Trump administration threatens women’s health care

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Before he was president, Donald Trump set his sights on eliminating an Obama-era requirement making it compulsory for companies to provide health insurance for employees to obtain free birth control. The requirement seems to be temporarily safe from the Trump administration, but as always under this president, the fate of women’s health care still hangs in the balance.

U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone, a federal judge in Philadelphia, blocked regulations on birth control Monday that would have gone into effect that same day. Beetlestone’s nationwide injunction prevented millions of women from losing access to birth control that they gained under the Affordable Care Act.

Those who push reduced access to birth control in the name of religious freedom are either severely underinformed about the noncontraceptive health benefits of these pills or they are willfully ignorant of the facts in order to push their own religious beliefs on others. This line of thinking threatens the state of women’s health care in the United States.

The ACA contains a provision called the Women’s Health Amendment, which requires employers to provide access to free or low-cost birth control to all female employees. It included women’s health care services in the ACA’s goal of expanding access to health insurance and reducing costs.

There is a caveat to this, however, in the form of the religious beliefs of employers. The Supreme Court found during the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case that the ACA couldn’t force privately held companies to provide health insurance to cover contraceptives as a form of an expression of religious beliefs. The latest Trump regulation would allow not only privately held companies but also publicly held companies to deny their employees coverage for birth control on moral or religious grounds.

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. from California issued a similar injunction on Sunday against the regulation for only 13 states and the District of Columbia, as opposed to Beetlestone’s injunction for the whole country.

Challengers of the Women’s Health Amendment “have raised serious questions going to the merits, on their claim that the Religious Exemption and the Moral Exemption are inconsistent with the Women’s Health Amendment,” Gilliam wrote in his decision. The purpose of the amendment, Gilliam pointed out, is “to promote access to women’s health care, not limit it.”

Limiting access to birth control does the exact opposite of promoting women’s health care. According to a 2011 study on the benefits of contraceptive pills, only 42 percent of women who use these pills use them only for contraceptive reasons. The majority of women rely on them for reasons other than pregnancy prevention — 31 percent depend on the pills to reduce pain and cramps associated with menstruation, 28 percent use them to regulate their periods or to prevent migraines and other painful symptoms, 14 percent use them to treat acne and 4 percent to treat endometriosis. One-third of teens who use contraceptive pills do so for only noncontraceptive purposes.

Allowing employers to deny their employees access to treatment for not only pregnancy prevention but also menstrual pain, migraines or acne on the basis of “religious beliefs” is absurd. Challenges to this access is the result of purposeful ignorance and poses a real threat to American women.