Lately the water cooler conversations at my religiously affiliated nonprofit social service agency have been focused on trying to understand the new HHS contraceptive mandate. My younger, female coworkers and enlightened male coworkers are giddy with anticipation. For as long as any of us have been working here, we haven’t been able to get coverage for our birth control and have even had to struggle to get our employer to cover contraception prescribed for conditions like polycystic fibrosis, and dysmenorrhea.
When a coworker with a cancer-causing condition needed contraception, she didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t afford the medication out-of-pocket with her meager nonprofit salary. I called our HR Director on her behalf. It took weeks to get an answer. Meanwhile my coworker couldn’t fill her prescription and her condition got worse. Recently I found out that another coworker has been paying $90 a month out-of-pocket for the contraception she needs to treat her polycystic fibrosis.
HR then told us that we would have to ask permission of the agency’s CEO on a case-by-case basis. It reminded me of when I first got my period at age 12. My cramps were so bad that my pediatrician recommended low-dose contraception. My non-Catholic mother said that my very Catholic father might not allow it and that I would need to ask him for permission. The only difference here is that we are not young girls and the CEO is not our father.
I pursued my coworker’s issue with our agency’s lawyer. She acknowledged that the agency had to cover the contraception in this situation, and she finally intervened and informed HR that they needed to cover it. A year later, I too needed to get contraception for dysmenorrhea, so when I asked for coverage I ended up in battle with a male HR employee that knew nothing about the earlier situation. It was embarrassing to have to reveal my medical condition to him. The ground I thought I covered last year had been lost it seemed, making it a continuously frustrating battle.
When I finally got a clear answer, I requested that the agency develop a protocol and send it out to our thousands of staff throughout the city. They refused.
We’re relieved that with today’s announcement from President Obama, by this time next year, the HHS mandate will allow us to make our own decisions about whether or not to take birth control. We will consult our own consciences, informed by our own health needs, and our own religious and moral convictions, not the religious beliefs of a distant religious figure. As U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand recently said, “whether or not to take birth control is the woman’s choice, not her boss’s.”
Due to concerns about job security the author of this post has chosen to write under a pseudonym.