(Photo: Associated Press)

BY STEPHANIE COSBY, News Editor

As part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, most insurance companies will be required to cover preventive health services for women without charging a co-pay or deductible beginning August 2012. Covered services will include “well-woman visits, mammograms, immunizations, [and] contraception,” says the White House website.

The announcement on January 20th caused an uproar in religious communities, particularly from Catholic leaders. Opponents argue that the birth control mandate violates the religious liberty of faiths that disapprove of artificial contraception.

In an effort to quell controversy, Mr. Obama announced a slight change to the mandate last Friday.

“Under the [new] rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services — no matter where they work. So that core principle remains,” Obama said. “But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company — not the hospital, not the charity — will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.”

Data: Centers For Disease Control, Graphic: Mother Jones

Leaders like Sister Carol Keenan, the president of the Catholic Health Association, like the new plan because it “protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions.” Archbishop Timothy Dolan called it a “step in the right direction.”

Others are not appeased. According to the Associated Press, critics are concerned that faith-based companies would end up indirectly paying for the birth control if insurance companies raised their premiums to cover the contraception. Some also wonder how self-insured Catholic institutions would deal with the mandate.

“The absence of various details about the funding… still raises concern,” said Joe Kohn, the director of public relations for the Archdiocese of Detroit. According to the Free Press, this organization oversees 1.3 million Catholics.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has been vocal in his opposition of the mandate as well. He has announced that he will continue plans to join three lawsuits filed against the federal government by two Christian universities and a Catholic television station.

Despite the backlash, President Obama insists the mandate is imperative. He holds that while religious liberty is important, so is access to preventive care. “Whether you’re a teacher, or a small businesswoman, or a nurse, or a janitor, no woman’s health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes,” Obama also said. “Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period.”

“Nearly 99% of all women have relied on birth contraception at some point in their lives. And yet, more than half of all women between the ages of 18 and 34 have struggled to afford it,” Obama said.

Kristen Golembiewski, a UM-Dearborn junior majoring in Communication and Journalism, agrees that access to contraception is important. “Every woman should be in control of decisions that affect her own health, and that includes having the option to take birth control,” she said.

Research shows that even the majority of Catholic women use birth control. Supporting this assertion, Mother Jones posted an infographic that shows that 98% of Catholic women who have had sex have also used some form of birth control. (Infographic available clicking here.)

In light of these statistics, Golembiewski feels that Catholic bishops “need to realize that not every Catholic woman adheres to the ‘guidelines’ regarding birth control… These bishops need to wake up and get out of women’s uteruses.”

Stay tuned for further coverage of this controversial debate.