Free contraception bill on fast track in Mass. House

(AP Photo/Mike Derer, File)

BOSTON (SHNS) – A bill that would guarantee copay-free coverage for birth control in Massachusetts earned initial approval in the House Wednesday morning and appears likely to be advanced to the Senate later in the day.

The bill (H 4009) would guarantee free access to oral contraception for women in Massachusetts, let women pick up a 12-month supply of birth control after their initial prescription, and mandate coverage of emergency contraception at pharmacies without a copayment or a new prescription.

A Center for Health Information and Analysis report released last week found the bill’s mandates will cost the health care system between $1.9 million and $5.7 million annually over the next five years, adding between 84 cents and $2.40 to the annual premium for a Massachusetts subscriber.

Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, has called the bill “commonsense legislation,” saying accessible and affordable contraception “is imperative for keeping women and families healthy and helping them thrive.”

Some Catholic organizations oppose the bill, despite the exemption for church or qualified church-controlled organizations who would be allowed to opt out.

“What the Left describes as ‘access’ is, actually, a state mandated subsidy, which burdens the consciences of those forced, against their will, to provide it,” Catholic Action League executive director C.J. Doyle said in a statement.

The bill is based on legislation sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad and Rep. John Scibak. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harriette Chandler of Worcester is the chief sponsor. The legislation has gained momentum in part due to an executive order issued by President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration announced last month new rules it said would “provide conscience protections” to Americans with religious or moral objections to paying for health insurance covering contraception. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the move was made because Trump “believes that the freedom to practice one’s faith is a fundamental right in this country” and the federal government should protect that right.

Congresswoman Katherine Clark on Wednesday said “hundreds of thousands of women across the country could lose access to the birth control they depend on” due to Trump’s decision.

“We’re already seeing the effects this week at the University of Notre Dame — where the university told staff and students that they would no longer provide access to contraception,” Clark wrote in an email.

During an Oct. 6 press briefing, Sanders was asked what she would say to women who have to pay more out of pocket to get contraception coverage.

According to a transcript, Sanders said, “This is a President who supports the First Amendment, supports the freedom of religion. I don’t think I understand why that should be an issue. The Supreme Court has validated this decision certainly many times over. And the President is somebody who believes in the Constitution. If people don’t like what the Constitution says, they should talk to Congress about changing it.”

In a recent op-ed, Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote that the Affordable Care Act required employer-sponsored health insurance policies to cover birth control without additional costs.

“Contraception helps level the economic playing field for women. With birth control available, women have more chances to go to school, get jobs, create businesses, and grow our economy,” Warren wrote. “They can more reliably plan their economic futures. But birth control offers these benefits only when women can access it – and when their bosses can’t dictate what types of birth control it’s appropriate for them to use.”

With formal sessions scheduled to end for the year on Nov. 15, House leaders have put the contraception bill on a sudden fast track. The bill received a favorable recommendation from the Financial Services Committee Monday, the Health Care Financing Committee okayed it Tuesday and the full House took it up on Wednesday morning after it quickly passed through the House Ways and Means Committee.