WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruling this week that certain business owners dont have to provide their employees with no-cost access to contraceptives under federal law doesnt affect North Carolinas state law on contraceptives.
The state law, which went into effect in 2000, requires that insurers that provide plans that cover prescription drugs or devices also cover contraceptives.
The Supreme Court, in the case brought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, ruled that closely held corporations can be exempt from the Affordable Care Acts mandate to provide employees with no-cost birth control coverage if the companys owner objected on the basis of religion.
This weeks ruling and other matters concerning birth control divide Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis in their hotly contested race this year.
Hagan was one of eight co-sponsors of the state contraceptive law in 1999, when she was a state senator. It provided an exemption for religious non-profit employers.
The Supreme Court ruling on Monday made clear that the court was looking only at the requirement of the federal health care law on employers group health plans to cover contraceptives.
Women who work for the type of corporation covered in the high courts new ruling will still have access to insurance coverage for contraception through the state law, as long as the company they work for doesnt have a self-funded health plan. Those plans, in which companies use their own funds to pay health claims, are covered by a federal law, not state laws. The Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) sets standards for health plans that companies voluntarily set up.
On Monday, when the Supreme Court opinion was handed down, Hagan said she was extremely disappointed in it.
It is shameful that a womans access to contraception is even up for debate in the year 2014. The choice about whether to use birth control should be between a woman and her doctor, not her boss, and no employer should be allowed to interfere with a womans access to contraception, she said in a statement.
Tillis praised the ruling, calling it a strong stand for the First Amendment freedom of religion. Although today was a loss for Kay Hagan, Barack Obama, and the Washington bureaucrats who want to run our lives, the American people are the clear winners, he said in a statement.
But on the state law on contraceptives, Tillis would not favor making any changes, said his spokesman, Daniel Keylin. He supports an individuals right to obtain contraceptives, contrary to the misrepresentation of his position by his political opponents.
Tillis campaign clarified some of his views on Wednesday. His spokesmen didnt explain why they hadnt responded earlier to repeated criticism from Hagans campaign on contraception issues.
Tillis believes that states cannot and should not ban contraceptives, as set out by current case law, said his campaign manager, Jordan Shaw.
During the Republican primary contest, Tillis' position was that states should have the right to ban contraceptives, but wouldnt say whether North Carolina should do it. Shaw now denies the campaign ever said that.
Shaw also said that Tillis would support a personhood amendment, an initiative in some states that would declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person under certain conditions. It would have to be consistent with his view that abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in danger, and it would have to be in line with his view that women should have access to contraceptives, he said.
The personhood movement, however, holds that embryos should have legal rights. The position could ban abortion in all cases and forms of birth control that prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus.
Tillis has said that company health plans shouldnt be required by the government to cover contraceptives.
Shaw said that Tillis views had not changed. The Hagan campaign saw it otherwise.
Thom Tillis said that states have the authority to ban birth control and that he supports a personhood amendment, and now that he is taking heat for those positions in his Senate bid he has made a cravenly political decision to try and hide that record. North Carolina women wont be fooled, said Hagan campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner.
Kay has a long record of standing up for womens health, but Thom Tillis has limited womens access to preventive care at every step of the way and has no problem letting employers make health care decisions for their female employees, Weiner said.
Tillis and his backers have criticized Hagan for her support for the Affordable Care Act.
But polls show the contraceptive mandate portion of the law is very popular. It means people can receive contraceptives with no out-of-pocket costs. That saved American women about $483 million in 2013, according to a report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
The state law didnt provide that pocketbook benefit. It said that the same deductibles and co-pay that applied to other drugs and devices also would apply to contraceptives.
Last year, Republicans in the state House proposed a bill that would have allowed private employers to exclude contraception coverage in their health insurance plans. Some Republican lawmakers refused to support it, however, and the provision was dropped.
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STORY UPDATED: 7/3/2014