Among other objections, opponents point to the abortifacient nature of many forms of contraception that would be covered

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The government should force health insurance companies to cover all forms of approved birth control, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) announced May 8. Failure to do so, said an ACOG leader, is tantamount to gender discrimination.

The strong statement came during the ACOG's annual clinical meeting in New Orleans. The ACOG — long-time supporters of abortion and birth control — used the occasion to issue several demands to federal and state lawmakers. In addition to mandating insurance coverage of birth control, the group also called for expanded government funding of family-planning programs and increased funding of contraceptive research.

“There is nothing ‘optional’ about contraception,” said Dr. Luella Klein, ACOG's director of women's health care issues, said. “It's a medical necessity for women during 30 years of their life span.”

The organization endorsed a bill pending in Congress that would accomplish the goal of mandatory insurance coverage. Senate Bill 766 and House Resolution 2174 would prohibit a health plan or a health insurance issuer from excluding or restricting benefits for prescription contraceptive drugs or devices. The bill's main sponsors are both pro-abortion: Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.). The so-called Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act (EPICCA) currently has 32 co-sponsors in the Senate and 96 in the House.

According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), a supporter of the federal legislation, most private insurance companies cover prescription drugs, but many exclude coverage for prescription contraceptives such as “the Pill,” Norplant, Depo-Provera, and the intrauterine device or IUD. APHA claims half of all traditional insurance plans and 7% of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) cover no contraceptive methods other than sterilization.

EPICCA is supported by traditional supporters of abortion such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Abortion Rights Action League, Planned Parenthood, and many medical organizations. Opposition to the bill comes primarily from insurance companies, pro-family organizations, and pro-life groups.

One organization publicly opposing the bill is the American Life League. Judie Brown, the group's president, called Klein's comments and the ACOG's statements about the bill “simply ridiculous.” Use of birth control drugs and devices is different from other prescriptions, she argues, because women have a choice whether to use artificial birth control or not.

“The decision to use artificial birth control is elective,” said Brown. “Pregnancy is not a disease, but apparently these doctors find it necessary to require chemical alteration of normal, healthy, fertile women.”

Brown pointed out that the EPICCA legislation requires insurance companies to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices — many of which can cause early abortions.

“Many forms of birth control, including Depo-Provera, the IUD, Norplant, and the Pill, can cause early abortion,” she said. “The ACOG's statements suggest that motherhood is incompatible with a healthy, quality life. That is patently absurd.”

Concerned Women for America, which bills itself the nation's largest women's organization, is also lobbying against the measure. Laurel MacLeod, CWA's director of legislative and public policy, calls legislation mandating insurance coverage of contraceptives “very dangerous.” MacLeod said because chemical abortions are the “new wave” in abortion methods, both domestically and internationally, pro-lifers must actively oppose any legislation that includes drugs that cause chemical abortions.

“Our federal legislators should not be spending their time working to pass legislation which would force private businesses and individuals to pay for chemicals which cause abortion,” said MacLeod. “The right to life is an inalienable right given to every man by God. Forcing businesses to support abortion — either surgical or chemical — flies in the face of everything our nation was built upon.”

She also said the bill's requirement that insurers pay for “outpatient services” related to contraception could be construed to cover surgical abortions.

Although GOP lawmakers have taken the lead in Congress, the EPICCA's prospects were originally dim. However, the ACOG's tenacious statement and the media frenzy regarding Viagra, the new drug aimed at solving the problem of impotence in men, has changed the playing field. Pointing to the fact that many insurance companies have opted to cover Viagra, pro-abortion leaders have launched an attack against what they say is hypocrisy and discrimination.

“Insurers not covering methods of birth control are forcing women to pay more out-of-pocket for medical care than men do,” said ACOG spokeswoman Dr. Anita Nelson.

Pro-life lobbyists remain optimistic that a vote on the EPICCA will not be scheduled. However, they expressed concern at the number of state legislatures considering such proposals.

Cathy Deeds of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops said she has received several requests for guidance from state organizations dealing with state versions of the EPICCA. Deeds said both the federal bill, and many of the state bills, do not protect Catholic health care providers from the mandate by offering conscience protection language.

“The bill raises huge issues and problems for Catholic health plans and providers who morally object to providing such coverage,” she said.

Deeds also refuted the claims of the bill's supporters who claim that mandated coverage of contraceptives will reduce the number of abortions. She mentioned a study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute that found that many women who seek abortion services were using contraception when they became pregnant.

State legislatures in 20 states have considered or are in the process of considering state versions of the EPICCA. At least six states — Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia — have laws or regulations concerning the coverage of birth control. The Maryland legislature recently passed a bill that will go into effect in October, mandating that insurers cover contraceptive prescriptions and services. Another bill recently passed the Connecticut House but the Senate did not consider the bill before adjournment.

American Life League's Brown is urging pro-life citizens to contact both their federal and state elected officials and ask them to oppose any legislation that would mandate insurance coverage for contraceptives.

“Please tell your state lawmakers to ignore the bogus arguments about ‘gender equity’ and ‘fairness,’ and urge them to vote against these proposals,” she said. “You might also want to remind them that many forms of birth control can cause early abortion.”

Greg Chesmore writes from Bloomington, Indiana.