BOISE, Idaho – Republican lawmakers in a handful of states are opening another front in the war against President Obama’s health care overhaul, seizing on the hot-button issue of birth control with bills that would allow insurance companies to ignore new federal rules requiring them to cover contraception.
Measures introduced recently in Idaho, Missouri and Arizona would go beyond religious nonprofits and expand exemptions to secular insurers or businesses that object to covering contraception, abortion and sterilization.
“In its present state, the health care bill is an affront to my religious freedoms,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Carlos Bilbao, who is sponsoring the bill.
The ACLU counters, saying such bills discriminate against women.
“Each time more entities are allowed to deny contraceptive coverage, the religious beliefs of some are imposed on others, and gender equality is undermined,” said Monica Hopkins, the ACLU’s Idaho director.
The bills echo a separate proposal in Congress sponsored by Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, allowing insurance plans to opt out of the requirement on contraception coverage if they have moral objections.
The measures are a direct challenge to a recent Obama administration decision that seeks to guarantee employees of religion-affiliated institutions reproductive health coverage, which includes contraception.
The controversy erupted nationally this year when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups protested a new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act rule that required church-affiliated universities, hospitals and nonprofits to include birth control without co-pays or premiums in their insurance plans.
Their opposition led Obama to modify the rule with changes that shift the burden from religious organizations to insurance companies, a solution that did little to satisfy the opposition and led to the statehouse challenges.