The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued new guidelines on Monday that will require health insurance plans to cover birth control without co-payments, deductibles or other charges.
Contraceptives are part of a wide range of women’s preventive services that health plans starting on or after Aug. 1, 2012, must provide for free. The Affordable Health Care Act, the health reform legislation that became law in March 2010, generally bans co-payments, deductibles and other charges for preventive services recommended by expert professional organizations in order to promote their use, according to the New York Times.
All birth control methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including birth control pills, voluntary sterilization and emergency contraception like ella and Plan B, must be covered, the federal government said.
Other women’s preventive services that must be provided for free include screenings for domestic violence, gestational diabetes in pregnant women, H.I.V., the human papillomavirus (HPV); breastfeeding counseling and breast pumps; and annual wellness check-ups.
"These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release.
"Today is a historic victory for women's health and women across the country," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a press release. "Covering birth control without co-pays is one of the most important steps we can take to prevent unintended pregnancy and keep women and children healthy."
Some conservative groups have opposed the move. "Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of Committee on Pro-Life Activities with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNN.
The healthcare law allows religious institutions offering health insurance to their employees to decline to cover contraception services.
"This isn't about abstinence,” Stephanie Cutter, a deputy senior advisor to President Obama, told CBS. “This is not about preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is about women's health. There are known benefits based on the science, based on the experts, based on the independent studies of the Institute of Medicine that keep women healthy, if you lower the cost of contraceptive services.”