N.H. Committee Votes To Send Bill That Would Alter Law on Contraceptive Coverage to Interim Study

April 19, 2012 — The New Hampshire Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee voted 4-0 on Tuesday to send to interim study a bill (HB 1546) that would allow employers with a religious or moral objection to drop contraceptive coverage from their health plans, the Concord Monitor reports. The move makes it unclear how the bill will fare when it reaches the full Senate (Timmins, Concord Monitor, 4/18).

Under a state law that took effect in 2000, employers must cover contraception in the health plans they offer employees. Neither religious organizations nor other employers objected to the law until last month, when leaders of the New Hampshire House criticized the Obama administration's contraceptive coverage rules under the federal health reform law (PL 111-148).

Supporters of the bill say the current state law discriminates against religious groups, requiring them to pay for contraceptives in violation of their principles. House Deputy Speaker Pamela Tucker (R) argued that the bill would not prevent women from obtaining contraception.

Opponents of the bill said it would exempt any employer who objects to providing contraception, not just religious organizations. "This language would adopt the broadest refusal provision in the country and would allow employers to interfere with employee access to health care," Jennifer Frizzell of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England said (Rayno, Manchester Union Leader, 4/17).

Liz Hagar, representing NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire, presented the committee with a petition signed by 4,800 state residents who oppose the bill. Hagar and Frizzell disputed a claim by Tucker that the bill would save employers money and said it would disproportionately affect women (Concord Monitor, 4/18).