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Birth-control mandate attacked

October 5, 2012 12:10 am



Virginia employers would not be required to cover birth control in the health insurance policies offered to workers under new proposals from Del. Bob Marshall.

Two bills filed Wednesday for the 2013 General Assembly session by Marshall, R-Prince William, say that any health insurance company that offers plans covering "contraception methods, sterilization procedures, or abortifacient drugs or devices" must also offer a plan that does not cover those items.

The bills also specify that no employer that provides health care coverage is required to include such coverage and employers who do want their employees' health plans to include such coverage must specifically request it.

Marshall, ardently pro-life, has long been known for his efforts to legislate against abortion. In the 2012 legislative session he was the sponsor of the controversial "personhood" bill, which said "unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons"--essentially declaring that life begins at conception, a legal position that opponents feared would outlaw contraception. That bill narrowly failed to pass.

Some anti-abortion activists oppose contraception like the birth control pill because it can prevent fertilization or, if an egg is fertilized, implantation, which some feel constitutes abortion.

Marshall's bills were sparked by a federal Department of Health and Human Services mandate this year that requires all private employers to cover contraception and sterilization in their health plans.

That mandate includes religious employers, like Catholic hospitals and charities. Many have filed lawsuits. There is a religious exemption but many say it is too narrow.

Marshall said he feels the mandate is a violation of the First Amendment's protection of religious freedom, because it requires employers to provide coverage --and other employees to help subsidize coverage--for contraception even if they morally object to it.

"The fact that [President Barack Obama] could have done other things that would not have compelled people who have conscientious objections to this to do this, shows he wants to attack the conscience, the moral thinking and understanding of Americans," Marshall said. "To make me participate in something that I can look in the Old Testament and find is forbidden, where does he get the authority, where does he get the nerve to even think about this?"

Since the 1990s, Virginia law has required insurance companies to offer coverage for prescription contraceptives--such as the birth control pill--if they offer coverage for other prescription drugs.

But that law--which Marshall voted against--doesn't require employers to provide that coverage to employees, he said.

Marshall said an employer declining to offer contraceptive coverage for moral reasons "is not an employer imposing his or her religion on somebody.

"This just says as a business decision for moral reasons or religious conscience reasons, I don't want to offer this that is not imposing your religious beliefs on people," Marshall said.

Also on Wednesday, Marshall filed a bill to deconform Virginia income tax law from two provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and to make it a felony to provide an abortion solely because of the gender of the fetus.

The 2013 session will convene in January, and Marshall's bills will be heard then.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.