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On Contraception, the Administration Got it Right

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"Contraceptives do not solve every problem. But women...want access to voluntary family planning for the same reasons as women elsewhere: to avoid high-risk pregnancies, to deliver healthy children and to better care for the children they have. And this is a pro-life cause."

That's what Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post in August 2011.

But now he criticizes the Obama Administration for protecting access to contraception for millions of American women.

At issue is the scope of preventive services to which women will have free access as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA exempted organizations whose primary purpose is the inculcation of religious values from the requirement to offer contraceptive coverage to female employees. Some advocates pushed to expand this exemption to religiously-affiliated colleges, universities, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations.

American women who are employed by colleges, universities, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations affiliated in some way with a religious entity are no less entitled to contraceptive coverage than those who work for any other employer.

As Gerson himself believed in 2011, contraception should not be a political issue. Less than two years ago, he convincingly described birth control in the developing world as "undeniably pro-life," described the debate as "irrelevant," and criticized both sides for polarization.

Yet here at home, in today's Washington Post, Gerson describes the Administration's decision to expand access as radical, malicious, a betrayal of Catholics, and a "war on religion." This is shameful.

"The immediate impact," of Obama's choice, "can be measured on three men," referring to Catholic elected, academic, and clerical leaders. I disagree. The merits of this issue should be judged by its reduction of unintended pregnancies and improvement of maternal and child health - not the feelings or political standing of President Obama's Catholic allies.

Several facts have been conveniently ignored by those alleging the Administration's decision constitutes a "war on religion".
• The Institute of Medicine concluded that contraception is not just a convenience but medically necessary "to ensure women's health and well-being."
• Increased access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality.
• Access to contraception prevents unintended pregnancies and reduces the incidence of abortion.
• The Administration exempted from required contraceptive coverage organizations whose primary purpose is the inculcation of religious values.

Had the Administration expanded the religious exemption to cover colleges, universities, nonprofits, and hospitals, it would have done so with blatant disregard to scientific and medical judgment. The Administration was right to refuse to expand the religious exemption, which would have denied millions of American women a key benefit of the Affordable Care Act to which they are entitled.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey represents New York's 18th Congressional District.