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All women should have access to contraception

The Obama administration's decision to protect access to affordable birth control for millions of women -- by rejecting efforts to further expand the refusal provision in the birth control coverage benefit -- was the right decision based on sound medical science and health policy. All women should have access to contraception no matter where they work.

An important note is that churches are exempt from the requirement that health insurance plans include no co-pay for birth control. The decision not to expand the exemption is not about churches. In fact, approximately 335,000 houses of worship nationwide are indeed exempt.

Rather, this decision is about hospitals and schools, like our many local religiously affiliated institutions that employ thousands of Western New Yorkers. These hardworking people should not be denied access to preventive care.

What is more, this decision does not require any employer or employee to dispense or use birth control. Birth control remains (as it should) a matter of individual choice. This decision simply ensures women have adequate health insurance coverage that includes the ability to choose affordable birth control and, thus, the ability to plan and space pregnancies.

Religiously affiliated hospitals and schools are part of the business world, and consequently they must follow the same rules as any other employer. This decision is a fair balance to increase access to preventive health care while continuing to respect religious freedom.

Furthermore, the thousands of Western New Yorkers who work at religiously affiliated institutions are people of all faiths and belief-systems. Their employers cannot be permitted to simply ignore good, sound medicine and construct a barrier to basic preventive care.

Access to affordable birth control is widely supported by the general public. The majority of American voters, including a majority of Catholic voters, support birth control without co-pays.

Contraception is already a standard and expected benefit under most health plans. The reality is virtually all women, including Catholics, will practice birth control at some point during their reproductive years.

It is imperative we work to remove barriers to preventive care both locally and nationwide. Including birth control as an integral part of preventive care will improve overall women's health, promote better birth outcomes and create a healthier community.

Simply put, the Obama administration's decision to protect access to birth control for all workers is the right decision for women, the right decision for public health and the right decision for Western New York.

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Karen J. Nelson is chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Western New York Inc.