On January 19, 2011 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended eight women's healthcare services be included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA). This announcement comes while the battle to provide women's healthcare through public funding has been raging on around the country.
According to the report "For sexually active women, the committee found that current recommendations of screening for cervical cancer, counseling for sexually transmitted infections, and HIV counseling and screening are too limited in scope and should be expanded. It also made several recommendations that support women's reproductive health. These include a fuller range of contraceptive education, counseling, methods, and services so that women can better avoid unwanted pregnancies and space their pregnancies to promote optimal birth outcomes. Additional recommendations address needs of pregnant women, including screening for gestational diabetes and lactation counseling and equipment to help women who choose to breastfeed do so successfully."
This report outlines the importance of reproductive health services as part of preventative care - and highlights how these services are empirically show to help reduce health care costs and improve women's health nation wide. Of course, Conservatives have already begun objecting.
The objections seem to follow a few seemingly simple - yet faulty arguments.
Conservatives are arguing that the women's healthcare recommendations will force people who are not sexually active to have contraception and women's health care covered by their plan.
This argument ignores that fact that under healthcare legislation we all end up paying for services that we ourselves might not use - but are important and beneficial as preventative healthcare for individuals and the nation. While women will never need a prostate exam most believe that we should help cover this important test for men because early detection and treatment saves men's lives.
What this argument is attempting to do is claim these measures would use public funds to cover abortion - because Plan B is included as a covered medication in these recommendations. Conservatives are arguing that the inclusion of these medications violates the exception to the abortion service clause that was important to them in passing this legislation.
The problem is that this argument ignores medical evidence and labels Plan B and other forms of contraception as abortion simply because conservatives do not like these services. Medically, Plan B is not a form of abortion. Some religious groups see it as such because it can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg - but this is not the scientific definition of abortion. While we can and should respect people's individual religious beliefs - this does not mean we should disallow services which medical science sees as appropriate for the prevention of unintended pregnancy. The IOM is presenting evidence that the reduction of unintended pregnancy improves the health of women over all - thus these medications should be available and part of the covered services.
All of these arguments lead to conservatives to their final argument: That including women's healthcare services, including contraception, violates their right to follow their religious beliefs and conscience. While religious freedom is a corner stone of American life and politics, allowing other people medical care that professionals see as necessary for good health should also be a corner stone of our society. That is part of why the United States is passing national healthcare in the first place. We want to provide basic rights to health to our citizens.