The number of American women who are using intrauterine devices (IUDs) to prevent pregnancy has risen sharply. This rise has led to an escalation in attacks on this method of birth control from groups that oppose abortion.
IUDs work primarily by preventing sperm from reaching an egg. But occasionally, they prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. This means that anti-abortion groups and people who believe that life begins at conception consider IUDs to cause abortions rather than preventing conception.
A little more than 10% of American women used an IUD for birth control in 2012, up from 2% in 2002, according to the Guttmacher Institute. IUDS are the fastest growing birth control method because their protection can last for years and can be reversed easily. Other forms of birth control, such as oral contraceptive pills, are declining in use. The Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) requires insurers to cover all birth control without a copayment.
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider a new religious challenge to contraceptives coverage under the ACA. Although the case deals broadly with whether groups that are affiliated with religious organizations should be exempt from providing any birth control coverage to their employees, some have focused specifically on IUDs because they believe preventing implantation of a fertilized egg is an abortion. If the court rules that the plaintiffs are exempt from covering birth control, IUDs could become much more costly for their female employees.
The ACA has an exemption for houses of worship and some related organizations that object to funding birth control for employees. It also has an accommodation for other companies that allows them to ask their insurers to provide coverage for birth control directly. But other types of religiously affiliated groups want similar exemptions and say the accommodation is too burdensome. In 2014, the Supreme Court accepted the position of Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores owned by conservative Christians, and ruled that closely-controlled private companies could opt out of contraception coverage because of their owners' beliefs. Hobby Lobby specifically objected to birth control that could prevent "an embryo from implanting in the womb," including two types of IUDs.
The current Supreme Court case consolidates lawsuits filed by nonprofit groups with religious affiliations, such as a colleges and retirement homes run by nuns.