The New Hampshire Senate will vote Thursday on a measure designed to shame employers who choose not to play any role in providing contraception to employees. [Note: on March 5, the Senate voted to table the bill.] Senators David Pierce (D-Lebanon) and Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth) want to make sure the world knows how displeased they are by the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, and SB 42 is their megaphone. They need only eleven of their Senate colleagues to join them in order to send the bill over to the House. The Commerce committee has already approved the bill on a 4-1 vote.
The bill has been amended since its introduction, but its essence is intact. If it passes, any employer who wants to provide health insurance as an employee benefit via a self-funded health plan, but who refuses to cover any or all forms of contraception, has to put that refusal in writing on job applications, or include it as a separate notice to be handed out with each application.
Not with each new-hire human resources package – but with each job application. Keeping employers disentangled from employees’ birth control decisions is simply an unacceptable concept to Senators Pierce and Fuller Clark. Apparently, they are not equally offended by insurance plans that fail to cover cancer treatments, or drugs to manage chronic conditions, or therapy for disabled children, or the cost of your bifocals. You might think that applicants ought to be advised of those exclusions in writing before filling out a job application. But no; the only health insurance information Senators Pierce and Clark want to see “prominently displayed” on job applications is a warning that a boss won’t pay for your birth control. Remember that the owners of Hobby Lobby claimed (and won) the right to refuse coverage for only four particular contraceptive methods, all of them abortion-inducing. They apparently cover about sixteen other methods without objection. That’s not enough for the likes of the sponsors of SB 42, who want to marginalize employers who demur even slightly from paying for employees’ birth control decisions. A “Catholic Citizenship News” email from the Diocese of Manchester (N.H.) this weekend took a tone far calmer than the bill deserves. “SB 42’s stated intent is to require employers to specify the details of contraceptive coverage to prospective employees, but based upon the text of the bill and testimony at the hearing, this measure clearly targets employers with religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage.” I was at the hearing, and I can vouch for that. The diocesan email continues: “…[I]f SB 42 becomes law, when individuals apply for jobs with Catholic parishes, schools, or institutions in New Hampshire, their first introduction to our ministries will be a ‘prominently displayed’ notice that the diocesan insurance plan does not cover contraception or abortifacients. As a State, we have been reluctant to place restrictions on employers requiring these types of burdens – additional paperwork or particular forms at the time of hire. It is troubling that SB 42 would create this first mandate that is clearly aimed at employers that decline to offer coverage that includes abortion or other life-denying drugs or devices that violate their moral and religious convictions.” Troubling? That’s one way to put it.
Earlier coverage of SB 42: Busy Day in Concord