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HealthCare Checkup

The Seattle Times health-care team tracks the local impact of the Affordable Care Act.

October 2, 2014 at 12:13 PM

State senators aim to boost birth-control access after Hobby Lobby ruling

Gov. Jay Inslee with Sen. Kevin Ranker, left, and Sen. David Frockt, right, announcing a legislative effort to protect women's access to birth control. Photo credit Lisa Stiffler.

Gov. Jay Inslee with Sen. Kevin Ranker, left, and Sen. David Frockt, right, announcing in Seattle a legislative effort to protect women’s access to birth control. Photo credit Lisa Stiffler.

A group of Democratic state senators said Thursday that it is crafting legislation to protect Washington women’s access to insurer-provided birth control. The group also criticized Republican leaders — slightly more than a month before the November elections — for failing to support women’s reproductive rights.

The senators are “approaching this as an issue of discrimination against women,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, a Kent Democrat, before the announcement.

The national Affordable Care Act generally requires employer-provided insurance plans to cover the cost of birth control. But the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores in June, weakened that requirement, allowing certain privately owned businesses to forgo contraception coverage if providing it would conflict with their religious beliefs. Some nonprofit religious organizations already were exempt from the birth-control mandate.

State leaders Thursday vowed to protect women’s reproductive rights.

“Washington women who are employed deserve a right to have insurance cover that contraceptive freedom,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, who joined Keiser, Sen. Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island and Seattle senators Jeanne Kohl-Welles and David Frockt at an event to promote their effort.

The announcement was made at a Seattle community center just west of a soon-to-open Hobby Lobby store. The owners of Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby, a family with strong Christian beliefs, was one of the businesses that brought the case before the Supreme Court.

While the senators promoted women’s issues, their announcement included campaign messages to drum up support for Democratic candidates on the ballot next month.

“[T]his proposal may not be successful, and Washington women will still be left in the lurch, if the Republican caucus remains in control of the state Senate after the November elections,” the senators warned in a press release.

The group called out some Republican candidates by name and said the party in general had blocked passage of the Reproductive Parity Act, a measure requiring insurance coverage for abortions.

Washington has a strong history of promoting reproductive rights and is routinely ranked high on lists compiled by pro-choice groups and at the bottom of state roundups by organizations opposed to abortions.

In making their legal case for a measure to bolster access to birth control, the senators cited existing state policies, including an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing equal rights for women and voter-approved Initiative 120, a measure protecting abortion rights. The senators also made reference to the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) and state Human Rights Commission enforcement provisions.

The senators did not share the exact language of their measure and said it has gone through 11 drafts. The state lawmakers could not say if any Washington women have been affected by the Supreme Court decision. Employers are required to notify employees if they are changing their insurance coverage for birth control.

The coming bill, which would be considered during the legislative session that begins in January, “will fix this problem for the women workers in our state who are at risk of having their reproductive, contraceptive, birth-control choices eliminated, taken away from them, by their boss,” Keiser said.

Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, birth control, health insurance

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