The North Carolina house has stripped a provision from HB 730 that would have let employers veto contraception coverage in employee health plans if they have a “moral objection” to birth control. But workers in the state who may at some point need an abortion could be affected by an amendment to the bill that would ban coverage of abortions in plans offered by the state’s insurance exchange.
Surrounded by activists donning Mad Men-style clothes as part of a protest to demand that U.S. reproductive rights not be re-set to those of the 1960s, legislators passed the revised bill out of committee with both restrictions intact. The move to strip the employer veto failed by one vote due to the absence of a key committee member, who was voting on a different bill. But once it reached a full house vote, several legislators refused to vote in favor of the full bill until the contraception coverage restriction was removed. Among them was state Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Edenton), a self-proclaimed “hard-core abortion opponent,” according to the Charlotte News Observer. Rep. Steinburg said in testimony, “It’s almost like we’re stepping back in time. To suggest in the 21st century that women would be prevented from having access to birth control—even as far to the right as I am—is going off the cliff. This is going too far.”
Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, which has been actively opposing the bill, credits the public speaking out for helping politicians understand that birth control is not for lawmakers to debate. “Thousands of our activists contacted their representatives over the last three days to tell them that women—not employers or politicians—have the right to control their health decisions, including whether to use birth control,” she said in a statement.
Buckley was even less pleased with the abortion coverage ban, which would not only affect women who struggle the most to pay for abortions, but everyone who purchases plans expecting full-spectrum health care when they need it. “Banning abortion coverage in the health-care exchange is yet another example of politicians imposing their own views on private medical decisions,” said Buckley. “Banning abortion coverage from some health care plans would restrict access to healthcare for women. When abortion becomes this inaccessible, for many women it is for all intents and purposes, illegal, which is exactly what the extremists in the [North Carolina General Assembly] want.”
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HB 730 was due to receive a final vote in the house by midnight Wednesday so it could make it into “crossover”—a period of time when a bill must have fully passed one chamber of the legislature in order to stay active and be voted on in the other chamber.