The upcoming election in Washington state just became a women’s rights issue. A number of Democratic senators are proposing legislation for next year’s session that would prohibit companies from excluding women’s birth control on their insurance plans.
This legislation comes on the heels of June’s Hobby Lobby decision. The landmark ruling by the Supreme Court (5-4), which made international headlines, ruled that ‘closely-held’ corporations would legally be seen as persons under RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) and that they cannot be compelled to violate their religious beliefs under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).
Due to this, Hobby Lobby was allowed to withhold four important types of birth control, two versions of the morning after pill and two versions of the IUD (intra-uterine device). This is especially compelling as IUDs are often the only safe form of birth control for women with blood clotting disorders (regular birth control pills exacerbate the risk of blood clots) and the morning after pill is seen as the front line for women in post-rape care.
Washington State law already mandates that any company that allows for prescription benefits must also cover access to women’s birth control. However, in light of the Hobby Lobby decision, the Democrats are using a legal provision (provided by Initiative 120) and the Washington state Constitution to ensure that to, “restrict birth control is tantamount to discrimination against women, which is against state laws and the constitution.” It will put stop-gaps in place to ensure that female workers in Washington will not have their right to birth control taken from them by their employers.
Karen Keiser, one of the senators supporting this legislation, says the social reasons to provide birth control are compelling, “Women who have unplanned pregnancies have more work interruptions and have much lower incomes, 40% lower on average. Women with multiple unplanned pregnancies and births have significant health complications and poorer health outcomes, and so do the babies.”
Keiser went on to say that this proposed legislation really shows the people of Washington where the Democrats and the Republicans differ when it comes to women and business. “There are some 40 other corporations lined up with similar claims of religious convictions, so this issue won’t be going away anytime soon.”
At a press conference, Keiser went on to note that while companies don’t actually have to provide health insurance, those that do cannot be allowed to discriminate against women.
However, the Democrats also made it clear that without gaining a majority in the Washington Senate the proposed legislation would likely be dead on arrival. The Democrats need two extra seats to gain control of what is currently a Republican majority coalition caucus in the Senate.
In an interview with The News Tribune, O’Ban, a Republican running for a hotly contested senate seat, stated he didn’t think the voters in his district were terribly worried about this sort of legislation. “They may want to make it an issue, but it’s not an issue for the voters of the 28th district,” he went on to explain that he was focused on education, job growth and keeping government small.
However, O’Ban might be largely underestimating the needs of his female constituents. Washington has long been at the forefront of providing women with fair and easy access to birth control methods. They have instituted programs for the uninsured to access free birth control and health checkups, banned public hospitals from denying abortion care and mandated access to emergency contraception for rape victims in all hospitals.
Such measures were not outliers of Washington’s overall attitude on women’s health, but part of a recognizable trend in the state, known for liberal laws such as legalizing gay marriage and cannabis use. The upcoming general election, which will be held on November 4, will determine the fate of this proposed legislation.
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