My Employer Shamed Me for Using Birth Control

Cross-posted with permission from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Affordable Care Act makes effective birth control more affordable for millions of women by requiring insurance plans, including those offered by employers, to include no-cost coverage for contraceptives. On March 25, the Supreme Court will hear arguments from companies that want to violate this law. Here is a story from one of the many women whose boss has tried to deny her birth control. For fear of losing her job, she requested to remain anonymous. Jessica is not her real name.

For the past three years, I have worked at the same Catholic university that I attended as a student. I love my job, and I can’t afford to lose it. But I’m afraid that I will be fired if I press my employer about whether contraception should be covered in our health plan. No one should be forced to choose between her job and her dignity, but that’s what I feel I’m being forced to do right now.

When I was first hired, the human resources secretary quickly told me that neither of the school’s two health insurance options covered birth control. But when I looked through the plan brochures, I noticed that contraception was not actually listed as something that was excluded. When I called the insurance companies myself, I found that they did both cover birth control—HR just didn’t want me to know it.

For over a year, I had no problem getting my birth control pills covered. I went off of birth control to have a child—a beautiful baby girl. After she was born, I went back on the pill because my husband and I weren’t yet ready for another child.

You can imagine my surprise when my pharmacy told me out of the blue one day that my insurance company had denied coverage for my monthly prescription. Assuming it was just some sort of administrative error, I called my insurer. But there was no mistake—my employer had demanded that the insurance company refuse to cover birth control for employees unless they had a “prior authorization” from their OB-GYN. My doctor agreed to write a letter explaining that I needed birth control for contraceptive purposes. But according to the insurance company, family planning isn’t “medically necessary,” and the insurance company denied coverage again. I had to go back to my OB-GYN and ask her to tell the insurance company the second reason why I need birth control pills: to regulate my periods. My doctor did, and the authorization was ultimately accepted.

After the insurance company first denied me birth control, but before I learned that it was my employer who’d demanded they change their policies, I made an appointment with the university’s human resources director. I assumed it was a problem with the insurance company, and thought our HR director would want to know. Boy, was I wrong. The HR director told me that birth control is something the university should never be expected to cover, and that I should be more responsible for my reproduction and “proud” of my child. Using birth control is the responsible decision for me and my family, and I was outraged that he would suggest that my family planning decisions somehow called into question my love for my daughter.

Ever since that conversation, the HR director gives me dirty looks whenever I pass him in the hallway. I discussed the situation with my boss, who was sympathetic, but advised me not to bring it up to anyone else in the university’s administration … because they might fire me.

I love my job and can’t afford to lose it, which is why I bite my tongue when I see the HR director, and why I’m not using my real name in this article. But I should not have to choose between keeping my job and losing my dignity.

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  • Annie

    This is absolutely disgusting. Thank you for sharing your story, Jessica, and good luck in whatever you decide on doing about this.

  • lady_black

    Her first mistake was talking to the same HR manager who lied to her in the first place. Not smart. Simply get the doctor to make up some “diagnosis” so the insurance covers it. Say it’s to treat PMS or something.

    • Amazing Sandwich

      I’ve lied to get necessary health care too, but she shouldn’t have to. Don’t blame her.

      • lady_black

        I’m not “blaming” her. I’m saying that the man’s secretary making a special point to tell her a damned lie (that insurance wouldn’t cover her birth control pills when the insurance company said they would) should have been a clue that he was not someone to be trusted. And it’s not necessarily lying to say you have PMS or heavy periods.

        • Arekushieru

          But she didn’t KNOW that until after the fact, because she only learned the information about her employer cancelling her coverage after she talked to him, and the point when he told her the lie. So, I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say, here.

          • lady_black

            She was told at hire that her insurance wouldn’t cover her birth control. Upon asking the insurer directly, she found out that her birth control really was covered. That was the lie. Like I said, once someone has LIED to me I will never trust them again. Now the HR manager is not only a liar, but a law violator as well. The ACA requires him to file his religious objection with the HHS so the employees can get contraception from the insurer. Someone who 1) tells you a lie because they think you won’t check, and then 2) flouts the law regarding the employees isn’t an ally. It’s none of the employer’s business what prescriptions the employees take and why. It should never even be discussed at all. She talked to the insurer to get information on how to get the pills covered. I would never have involved the pope, err… HR director in that transaction.

      • Shan

        Nobody should have to lie to get healthcare, though.

        • lady_black


  • red_zone

    Sorry, but your employers personal religious beliefs have NO bearing on the lives of their employees and they have no business telling them what their medical options are.

  • anja

    Don’t be ashamed, you’re in the right, it’s the HR director that should be ashamed. Unfortunately, your boss is probably right about the university’s administrators. It’s a Catholic organization and they feel no shame and offer no justice.

    • HeilMary1

      The HR director is committing criminal Munchausen by Proxy abuse by denying her health- and life-saving contraception. I’ll bet he has no problem with staff priests abusing Viagra.

      • Oak Cliff Townie

        ———–> I’ll bet he has no problem with staff priests abusing Viagra.<———-
        Technically Priests should not be using their "STAFF" for anything other than the removal urine from their bodies …So the REPLY
        to the Jerk should have been Abstinence and the spiritual rewards of
        denial and secretive Masturbation might work for you …But some of us
        enjoy a human touch…That Isn't our own .

  • Veronica

    This is absolutely horrifying. “Jessica”, there has to be somewhere else you can turn – I cannot accept that this is the end. Have you tried contacting someone who works for the government in the ACA department? This has to be in violation of so many things. Is there a way to create an anonymous class-action lawsuit? Can either RH Reality Check or the ACLU sponsor you to help you afford a legal battle? I’m on your side – as are most other readers – and I almost wish I knew more specifics so I could take more action. Medical decisions, choices, histories, etc have no place in the hands of employers.

  • Kestrel

    This is one of the reasons why I left the church (the backwards thinking about what was really considered “right” or wrong) and ultimately I came to reject religion entirely. We use it to define our beliefs – not the other way around. They buy any argument lock, stock and barrel as long as it fits into their dogma. This woman probably loves her daughter tremendously and wouldn’t want to have MORE children that she cannot provide for: a home in a neighborhood with good schools, the ability to work one job or even part-time, money to be sure she can have medical care, liano lessons, summer camp or just money enough to not have to watch mom and dad argue when the lights go off if the bill was paid. To think that having MORE CHILDREN who will come as often and whenever the mix is just right – like leaving a reproductive faucet on in the family bathroom, to make a weird metaphor – is love? Real love that women should have for their kids? Absurd. We do not,love something more because we are willing to have endless amounts of it. Isn’t that how we get into net and become obese? You don’t love your kids more because you have 3 or 6 or a Duggar-sized town.
    To insist that women have, don’t have or shouldn’t have or must have babies isn’t any business of ANYONE but the parents: in-laws, siblings – least of all the employer or the insurance. When did the conservatives decide we needed to have all these babies that aren’t necessarily wanted and exactly when did they approve the endless budget to pay for the 2 year old’s day care, the 8 year old’s coat, the 12 year old’s haircuts, allergy medicine, gluten free cereal or therapist?
    They cannot enforce women to have children that aren’t wanted.
    …..can they?

  • LauraNo

    Isn’t it ‘funny’ how contraception via insurance was no problem until Republicans politicized it during their battle against health care? And then people jump to their puppet wire commands. Too funny.