Michigan small businesses must cover birth control

The state's Civil Rights Commission finds that small businesses that provide health insurance must cover birth control.

Published August 25, 2006 3:56PM (EDT)

A ruling on Monday by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission found that "small businesses that offer comprehensive prescription coverage but fail to cover birth control are violating the states civil rights act," the Detroit News reports. The commission agreed that "employers with 15 workers or fewer are discriminating against women by failing to pay for birth control, which studies show most women will use in their life times and costs a company about $1.43 a month for coverage per person."

What is especially important about this decision is that although federal law requires that all businesses with more than 15 employees who offer health insurance cover contraceptives, in Michigan 60 percent of employers have fewer than 15 employees, which typically lets small businesses off the hook and thousands of women S.O.L.

According to the News, the commission's ruling includes an exemption for faith-based organizations that object to birth control, "provided the organization's primary mission is to promote its values to its members." Paul Long, the vice president of the Michigan Catholic Conference, expressed displeasure with the ruling, telling the News, "we find that to be a very narrowly based definition of what a faith-based organization is. We would express deep disagreement over the ruling's limited vision of the First Amendment's religious freedom rights."

But for someone like Diane Madsen, whose daughter needed oral contraceptives to help with pre-endometriosis, the ruling is a "victory for women." Indeed, the commission's finding acknowledges that birth control is a basic need and that all women should have affordable access. Madsen, whose employer covered erectile dysfunction medication for men, but not contraceptives for women, told the News that "it seemed like a double standard."

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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