Starting in February, birth control will be covered by health insurance for employees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a move many are celebrating as both a grassroots victory and one that further aligns the financial policy on the teachings of the faith. on family planning.
After all, the Utah-based faith, while encouraging husbands and wives “who are capable of having children” to do so, nevertheless leaves birth control decisions to couples.
Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrators — the company that insures church employees, including faculty and staff at all Brigham Young University campuses, and one of Beehive State’s largest employers — announced the change in an e- email to customers on January 26.
Founded by the church in 1970, DMBA describes itself on its website as a “private, nonprofit trust” to administer church employee benefits.
Coverage, it says, will include oral contraceptives, contraceptive patches, vaginal rings, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and injectable contraceptives. Emergency contraception, such as the morning after pill, will remain uncovered.
Surgical sterilization, on the other hand, will remain uncovered except in certain cases, among which the mother is 40 years old or older and/or has already had five pregnancies or live births.
When asked why the change had happened now – after decades of customer pressure – a DMBA spokesman, attorney Scott Eastmond, simply replied that “the DMBA regularly reviews medical benefits and coverages and periodically changes them in response to various factors”.
The decision, he added, came from DMBA’s Board of Directors based on “the recommendation of DMBA’s management and staff”.
An “evidence in terms of strengthening families”
Sarah Coyneassociate director of BYU’s School of Family Life, applauded the change, which she called “no-brainer in terms of strengthening families.”
Research, she said, clearly shows that when parents – especially women – are able to determine when and how many children, everyone benefits. The mental and physical health of mothers improves and “families function better overall”.
It’s one of the reasons the mother of five has worked hard as a member of BYU Faculty Advisory Council to advocate for contraceptive coverage.
She and her colleagues “have been writing quite long proposals on the subject for three years, going so far as to include anecdotes from the Instagram account”DMBA Stories” in their latest submission.
Launched in 2022, the social media channel includes hundreds of anonymous anecdotes attributed to church workers – including men – describing the impact of exclusion from insurer birth control and the reasons for need access to contraceptives.
“I’m using birth control because my last baby burst my uterus and the doctor told me I should never get pregnant again,” one post read. “It could kill me.”
In another, a woman said she had suffered a ectopic pregnancy which “nearly killed me” and “wouldn’t have happened if the DMBA had cleared the IUD my doctor and I requested after my child was born 18 months prior.”
Others cite the need for contraceptives for health issues unrelated to family planning, including one woman who said her IUD stopped her uterine polyps from growing back and lowered her risk of developing uterine cancer. Still others speak openly about the inability to care for – whether mentally, physically or financially – more children.
Looking back, Coyne believes stories like these ultimately helped turn the tide among those who ultimately made the final decision.
Aligning politics with preaching
Sydney Mogotsi worked for the church’s Humanitarian Services department from 2018 to 2022. Prior to that, she worked for non-profit organizations on sexual and reproductive health issues for vulnerable women.
“I’m thrilled,” she said of the news about the coverage expansion. “I’m almost in disbelief that this could happen.”
Like Coyne, she pointed to research showing that when women have access to birth control “it makes every aspect of life better for her.”
Knowing this prompted her to try to change the policy by creating a petition while she was still working for the church. She collected more than 100 names of men and women who worked for the church, but said she was reprimanded for her efforts by human resources.
“They told me,” she said, “I was hurting the recruitment of more women.”
What troubled Mogotsi the most was the fact that she was not proposing anything radical. For decades the church has allowed the use of contraceptives, stating that “the decision on how many children to have and when to have them is extremely personal and private. It should be left between the couple and the Lord.
“Church members should not judge each other in this matter,” General manual advice, explaining that “the physical intimacy between husband and wife is meant to be beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife.
Mogotsi also cited DMBA Stories as a likely catalyst for the change, though she doubts she’ll ever know exactly why the change happened when it happened. One thing she doesn’t doubt: “It’s definitely a popular victory.”
She also pointed out that until women are better represented in decision-making roles within the church hierarchy, victories like these can always take time.
“That’s definitely part of the reason why it took so long,” she said. “It’s a [male] echo chamber.