N.H. House Approves Bill To Allow Religious Exemptions to State Contraceptive Coverage Law

March 9, 2012 — The New Hampshire House on Wednesday voted to approve legislation (HB 1546) that would exempt religious employers from a state law that requires health plans to cover contraceptive services, Reuters reports (McClure, Reuters, 3/8).

House Speaker Bill O'Brien (R) said he and his colleagues learned of the law while they were drafting a measure to object to new federal rules on contraceptive coverage. The New Hampshire law took effect in January 2000 after passing the Legislature with bipartisan support the previous year. It mandates that group health plans cover all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives and contraception-related doctors visits.

Unlike the federal rules, the state law includes no exemptions for health plans offered by religiously affiliated employers who oppose contraception (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/15).

Of the 28 states that have contraceptive coverage laws, New Hampshire is one of eight that include no exemptions for religious organizations, according to Laura Thibault, interim executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire (AP/Boston Globe, 3/7).

Planned Parenthood supporters and women's groups gathered outside the Capitol on Wednesday to protest the bill. Jennifer Frizzell, a senior policy adviser at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said. "There's a bit of ideology in wrapping themselves in the cloak of religious liberty to discriminate against women's health" (Reuters, 3/8).

The bill now proceeds to the Senate. Gov. John Lynch (D) has not said whether he would veto the measure if it reaches his desk (AP/Boston Globe, 3/7). Lynch spokesperson Colin Manning said the governor "believes the current law is working well and serving the people well" (Reuters, 3/8).