The Supreme Court ruling this week that certain business owners don’t have to provide their employees with no-cost access to contraceptives under federal law doesn’t affect North Carolina’s 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 Act’s mandate to provide employees with no-cost birth control coverage if the company’s owner objected on the basis of religion.
This week’s 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 court’s new ruling will still have access to insurance coverage for contraception through the state law, as long as the company they work for doesn’t 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 woman’s 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 woman’s 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 individual’s 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 didn’t explain why they hadn’t responded earlier to repeated criticism from Hagan’s 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 wouldn’t 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 shouldn’t 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 won’t be fooled,” said Hagan campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner.
“Kay has a long record of standing up for women’s health, but Thom Tillis has limited women’s 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 didn’t 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