Snowe, Collins Reverse Themselves on Contraception Coverage
It is perhaps another sign of rightward drift from two of the few moderates left in the tea-party influenced Republican Party.
Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who had previously voted in favor of a bill requiring contraceptives to be covered in the same way as other prescription medication, have now come out against a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act that requires insurance plans bought by employers, including religious non-profits that employ and serve persons of different beliefs, to cover birth control.
The Maine Catholic Diocese has taken a leading role in attacking the contraception rule, despite the fact that Maine already has a similar law in place, with the exact same exemptions for churches and houses of worship included in the federal law.
Both Senators have now announced their support for a bill sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio which would exclude not just Catholic-related groups, but would allow any employer to deny coverage of birth control to their employees simply by stating that it was done for religious reasons.
Snowe and Collins seem to be attempting to split hairs on their reversal, noting that the previous bill they supported was a mandate on insurance companies, not employers, and that while it had no exemption at all for religious organizations, they had some plans to include one at a later date.
The statements they made at the time, highlighted by Jonathan Riskind in his blog, however, show that the issue was once one of fundamental equity.
“It really does get down to a matter of basic fairness, fairness to half of the nation's population, fairness in how we treat and view women's reproductive health care versus every other health care need that is addressed through prescription drug coverage,” Snowe said of the 2001 bill. “Make no mistake about it, the lack of coverage for prescription contraceptives in our health insurance policy has a very real impact on the lives of women in America, and certainly on our society as a whole.”
Collins made a similar statement, declaring that “while women clearly view contraception as basic to their health and to their lives, health insurers in the United States traditionally have not. While health plans routinely cover other prescriptions and outpatient medical services, contraceptive coverage is meager or nonexistent in many health insurance policies.”
Even if they now view the mandate in the ACA differently than they did the one in the previous legislation, and oppose it overall, the argument about basic fairness within its provisions should still apply. To claim otherwise is a clear reversal of their previous beliefs and actions.
The Senators reversal on this issue and the general furor over coverage of contraception is surprising, considering that twenty-seven states already have similar requirements and polling shows that a majority of both the general population and Catholics support the mandate.
According to Megan Hannan, Maine Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, 99% of sexually active women use birth control or have, as do 98% of Catholics.
“The Bishops are asserting that this violates their First Amendment rights to freedom to practice religion, but it does not – no one is forced to use contraception, only to make it available to all employees, regardless of employees’ religion (as most religions have no problem with contraception),” said Hannan.
It’s also worth noting that 58% of women who use oral birth control medication take it at least in part for purposes other than family planning, including treatment of menstrual pain, menstrual regulation and endometriosis.
Snowe and Collins were right previously when they described this as a women’s health issue and are wrong now to make it a political one.