The federal Department of Health and Human Services was to announce historic women's healthcare guidelines Monday that would require insurance companies to cover women's preventive services, including birth control, for what amounts to no cost.
The guidelines, under the new healthcare law, would force insurance companies to not only cover the costs, but to eliminate co-pays and deductibles, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.
Birth control has been controversial in the U.S. from the moment Margaret Sanger opened the country's first family planning clinic in 1916 -- and was promptly sent to prison for it.
While many have hailed contraception as the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, others argue that abstinence education is the way to go.
In a statement, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes the new guidelines, saying, "Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible."
But women's rights advocates say the benefits of free birth control go beyond preventing pregnancy.
"The number of children we have determines how many we need to educate, how many we need to employ," says Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Ellen Chesler. "The social and economical outcomes of contraception are critical."
On "The Early Show" Monday, Stephanie Cutter, a deputy senior advisor to President Obama, explained that, " As a result of the Affordable Care Act, the new health reform law, insurance companies have to provide preventative care with no out-of-pocket costs. There were never any guidelines for women's health to make sure they stay healthy throughout the course of their lives. Today, that's no longer the case. We have a set of recommended preventative services for women.
The guidelines would take effect Aug. 1, 2012.
"Private insurance companies," Cutter said, "have to provide the services with no out-of-pocket costs. Many of the benefits we're announcing today are already part of large private healthcare care, employer plans, and they're part of federal health care benefits. Members of Congress have the benefits. Now, they're going to be available to all women."
"There are things covered like treatment for gestational diabetes to keep mothers and their children healthy, well-woman visits to treat women for the things unique about their health needs and, of course, contraception."
And, she observed, "This isn't about abstinence. This is not about preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is about women's health. There are known benefits based on the science, based on the experts, based on the independent studies of the Institute of Medicine that keep women healthy, if you lower the cost of contraceptive services. These are FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-approved contraceptive services. It helps with keeping women healthy, it helps with lowering the rates of low-birth weight (babies), lowering (the number of) premature births and helping women with chronic conditions have children in a healthy way."