Birth control debate comes to Idaho
Proposed legislation would allow employers to refuse insurance coverage of contraceptivesBOISE — The national debate on mandatory birth control coverage is heating up in Idaho. On Thursday, Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, presented legislation to exempt Gem State insurers from a federal requirement to provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. The bill mirrors a similar federal act drafted in protest of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provision requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptives. The bill would allow employers and insurers to opt out of covering contraceptives and sterilization, and comes in response to the federal health care overhaul. Bilbao, a retired quality manager for Boeing Co., cited his religious convictions as the major reason he drafted the legislation. “The (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage is an attack on my rights of conscience,” Bilbao said, adding his bill doesn’t outlaw abortion or birth control, just the provision that requires employees and insurance companies provide coverage. If passed, an emergency clause would make the law effective immediately. Rep. John Rusche, DLewiston, questioned Bilbao’s argument. “If a service is available under law but refused by an employer … due to his morals or religion, doesn’t that violate the employee’s right to have that service available?” he asked. Hannah Brass, legislative director for Planned Parenthood of Idaho, said many women use contraceptives for reasons other than family planning. Birth control can be used to treat endometriosis, painful menstrual cramps and other conditions, she said. Brass also said that the religious beliefs of an employer shouldn’t dictate an employee’s choice to use contraception. In the same meeting, Bilbao introduced a proposal for the Legislature to encourage Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, an amendment to the federal health care reform which would remove the birth control coverage mandate. Monica Hopkins of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho objected to the proposal, arguing that the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act is so broad that employers could strip away coverage for any medical procedure, not just contraceptives. She said under the proposed federal law, Scientologists could deny their employees coverage for anti-depressants. Because the committee’s agenda wasn’t posted online the day before Thursday’s meeting, as is customary, Chairwoman Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, postponed a vote on the bill until Monday. The committee will take more testimony then, Mc-Geachin said.