At last, LDS Church employees to get insurance coverage for birth control

BYU administrator calls it a “no-brainer” that will strengthen families.

(Rich Pedroncelli |AP) Birth control pills are shown in 2016. DMBA, which insures employees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will start covering contraception in February.

Starting in February, birth control will be covered under health insurance for employees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a decision many are celebrating as both a grassroots victory and one that brings the financial policy more in line with the faith’s teachings on family planning.

After all, the Utah-based faith, while encouraging husbands and wives “who are able to bear children” to do so, nonetheless leaves birth control decisions up 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 the Beehive State’s largest employers — announced the change in an email to customers Jan. 26.

Founded by the church in 1970, DMBA describes itself on its website as a “private, nonprofit trust” tasked with managing church employee benefits.

Coverage, its notice specified, will include oral contraceptives, contraceptive patches, vaginal rings, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and injectable contraceptives. Emergency contraception, such as morning-after pills, will remain uncovered.

Surgical sterilization, meanwhile, will stay uncovered except in certain cases, among them being the mother is 40 or older and/or has already had five pregnancies or live births.

As with most insurers, male condoms are not covered.

When asked why the change occurred now — after decades of clients lobbying for it — a DMBA spokesperson, attorney Scott Eastmond, simply said that “DMBA regularly reviews medical benefits and coverages and periodically makes changes in response to a variety of factors.”

The decision, he added, came from the DMBA board of directors based on “the recommendation of DMBA management and staff.”

A ‘no-brainer in terms of strengthening families’

(Sarah Coyne) Sarah Coyne, associate director of Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life, with her husband and five children, described the expansion of birth control coverage as a win for women's mental and physical health.

Sarah Coyne, associate director of BYU’s School of Family Life, applauded the change, which she called a “no-brainer in terms of strengthening families.”

Research, she said, makes it clear that when parents — especially women — are able to determine the timing and number of children, everyone benefits. Mothers’ mental and physical health improves and “families function better overall.”

This is one reason the mother of five worked hard as a member of BYU’s Faculty Advisory Council to advocate for contraceptive coverage.

She and her colleagues “have written pretty long proposals on the topic for the past three years,” going so far as to include anecdotes from the Instagram account “DMBA Stories” in their most recent submission.

Launched in 2022, the social media channel includes hundreds of anonymous anecdotes attributed to church employees — including men — describing the impact of the insurer’s birth control exclusion and reasons for needing access to contraceptives.

“I use birth control because my last baby burst my uterus and the doctor told me that I should never get pregnant again,” one post reads. “It could kill me.”

In another, a woman said she suffered an ectopic pregnancy that “almost killed me” and “would not have happened had DMBA authorized the IUD my doctor and I requested following the birth of my child 18 months prior.”

Others cite the need for contraceptives for health issues unrelated to family planning, including one woman who said her IUD prevented her uterine polyps from regrowing and lowered her risk of developing uterine cancer. Still others speak openly about the inability to care — be it mentally, physically or financially — for more kids.

Looking back, Coyne believes stories like these ultimately helped turn the tide of opinion among those ultimately responsible for making the final call.

Aligning policy with preaching

(Sydney Mogotsi) Sydney Mogotsi, pictured here with her daughter, worked for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2018 to 2022. During that time, she sought family planning care from Planned Parenthood due to DMBA's lack of coverage.

Sydney Mogotsi worked for the church’s Humanitarian Services Department from 2018 to 2022. Before that, she worked for nonprofits on issues of sexual reproductive health among vulnerable women.

“I’m elated,” she said of the news regarding the expansion in coverage. “I’m almost in disbelief this could happen.”

Like Coyne, she pointed to the research showing that when women have access to birth control “it improves all aspects of life for her.”

Knowing this propelled her to try to change the policy by creating a petition while she still worked for the church. She collected more than 100 names of men and women who worked for the church but said she was chastised for her efforts by human resources.

“They told me,” she said, “I was hurting the recruitment of more women.”

What confused Mogotsi the most was the fact that she wasn’t proposing anything radical. For decades, the church has allowed the use of contraceptives, stating that “the decision about 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 one another in this matter,” the faith’s General Handbook counsels, explaining that “physical intimacy between husband and wife is intended 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 change, although she doubts she will ever know exactly why the change happened when it did. One thing she doesn’t doubt: “This is for sure a grassroots victory.”

She also emphasized that until women are better represented in decision-making roles within church hierarchy, wins like these may always take time.

“That is definitely part of the reason this took so long,” she said. “It’s a [male] echo chamber.”