By: McKinsey Skeens ’13
On February 13th, 2012, the Washington State House of Representatives approved the Reproductive Parity Act sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-34) in a 52-46 vote. The legislation will require all health insurance policies that cover maternity care to cover abortion care as well. The legislation comes on the heels of the Obama administrations’ health care law that would require religiously affiliated hospitals, charities, and universities to provide birth control for their female employees, even if the use of contraceptives conflicts with the religious beliefs of the organization or company. Churches, however, are exempt from the requirement to provide contraceptives to their female practitioners.
The mandate to require the distribution of contraceptives has resulted in a large amount of backlash from Republican representatives. One such representative, Republican Representative Foster Friess, stated, “You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception…The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.” While Friess maintains his statement was uttered in jest, women’s groups, such as Planned Parenthood, have rebelled vehemently against his comments, stating “Birth control is basic health care and used almost universally by women… It is not something to belittle on national TV.”
Additional arguments in opposition to the health care mandate, involve concern over the requirement that employers must provide preventative care, including birth control, to women at no cost. Many churches and religious leaders maintain this violates the rights of religious freedom, particularly at companies and organizations with religious affiliations, as it contradicts many of the primary religious beliefs held by certain faiths. Exemplifying this sentiment was Idaho Republican Representative Carlos Bilbao, who stated that “In its present state, the health care bill is an affront to my religious freedoms.”
In response to this requirement, several state representatives have attempted to create and pass legislation that would exempt their states from these requirements, however, constitutional scholar David Gray Adler, director of the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research, stated, “If the federal program provides that women can have access to contraceptives through insurance programs, states will be required to uphold the federal law. That’s the implication of the supremacy clause – federal laws trump state laws.”
In response to the large amount of backlash and objection from many several Republican representatives and religious leaders, Obama recently announced he would be amending the bill with an “accommodation.” The bill would still ensure that female employees would receive free contraceptives; however the money used to provide this would be funded by the insurance companies directly in order to ensure church money would not be used to support practices that violate their religious freedom.
Despite this alteration, the White House has maintained that providing preventative care is the most fiscally responsible option. A fact sheet issued by the White House states that “Covering contraception is cost neutral since it saves money by keeping women healthy and preventing spending on other health services,” it adds that, “there was no increase in premiums when contraception was added to the Federal Employees Health Benefit System and required of non-religious employers in Hawaii. One study found that covering contraception saved employers $97 per year, per employee.”
For more information regarding the contraceptive policies outlined in the health care bill, please see President Obama’s comment’s on preventative care at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/02/10/remarks-president-preventive-care
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