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March 07. 2012 12:28PM

House votes to give employers choice on whether health insurance covers contraception


Protesters opposed to House Bill 1546 march at a rally ahead of the House vote on Wednesday to approve the measure, which allows employers to exclude contraceptive coverage from health insurance plans if they have religious objections. (Ted Siefer)

CONCORD - The House voted 196-150 Wednesday to allow employers to exclude contraceptive coverage from health insurance plans if they have religious objections.

Supporters say House Bill 1546 is needed to preserve the state's tradition of religious freedom. House Speaker William O'Brien has said the requirement forces some religious organizations to provide contraceptives to employees over their moral objection.

Rep. Daniel Itse, R-Fremont, said offering an exemption to those with religious objections does not disturb the public peace nor interfere with another person's religious practices, so the state is compelled to protect those rights.

But opponents said the bill places employers between a woman and her doctor and would give religious organizations greater rights than individuals.

Rep. Christopher Serling, D-Portsmouth, noted that because the bill does not include an exemption for Jehovah's Witnesses for blood transfusions, only for contraceptives, he said, “It is difficult for me to believe this is only about religious liberty.”

HB 1546 would change a 12-year-old law requiring health insurers who offer prescription coverage to include contraceptives. The law does not require self-insured plans – such as those for the Catholic Diocese of Manchester or Catholic Medical Center -- to include the provision, but does require smaller Catholic colleges that purchase insurance plans to include it.

Gov. John Lynch has said he favors the law currently in place. The House vote is not enough for the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

The controversial legislation drew a crowd to the State House Wednesday, mostly people in opposition to the bill.


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