A House committee approved a bill last week that would exempt employers from providing health insurance coverage for contraception if the employer has a religious exemption.
HB 1546 amends a 12-year-old state law that requires employers to cover contraceptives if other medications are covered under the health insurance provided.
“It is unconstitutional for government to force religious institutions to pay for products that they object to on religious grounds,” bill co-sponsor State Rep. Andrew Manuse, R-Derry, said in his testimony to the Constitutional Review and Statuatory Recodification Committee, which passed the bill on Feb. 23. “This effort has nothing to do with the merit of contraceptives, as I personally do not object to their use. I do, however, object to the idea that government can force a religious organization to pay for procedures or services that they find objectionable according to the teachings of their religion.”
“The bill is more about religious freedom than contraception, so I would be for it,” agreed Rep. Kevin Reichard, R-Derry, who sits on the Constitutional Review and Statuatory Recodification Committee. But Reichard was not present for the vote last week due to a death in the family. “The government has no right to step in with private institutions.”
Opponents of the amendment argued at the hearing that many women use contraceptives for medical reasons other than preventing pregnancy—such as hormone regulation, endometriosis and migraines.
But Manuse said women will likely still be covered for other uses of contraceptives that don’t relate to birth control under the law.
“The religious objections is to birth control, not the other uses of the drugs. Testimony from the church and others in the medical/insurance field indicated the law would be interpreted that way,” he said.
Manuse said it’s also important to note “that this exemption does nothing to prohibit access to birth control. It simply allows religious organizations to refuse to pay for treatments or procedures to which they conscientiously object on religious grounds. Women who work for these organizations will always be able to access birth control on their own.”
While the intent of the bill is to provide exemption solely to religious organiztions, Manuse said he supposes others may try to abuse the law.“I’m fairly sure they won’t get away with it,” he said.
HB 154 comes on the heels of a resolution the House passed calling for the federal government to overturn a revised law that mandates health insurance companies to be required to offer contraception coverage directly and without a co-pay—what was supposed to be a compromise to the original law, which would have required religious-affiliated employers to provide insurance coverage of birth control expenses.
The bill Manuse co-sponsored takes the resolution further—requiring women whose employers are opposed to contraception for religious reasons to pay for prescribed birth control out of pocket.
This article by Kaitlyn Woods was published in the Nutfield News on Wednesday, February 29, 2012.