News Contraception

In Wake of ‘Hobby Lobby,’ Wisconsin to Stop Enforcing State Contraceptive Benefit Rule

Nina Liss-Schultz

Reproductive rights advocates and pro-choice politicians in the state argue that Wisconsin Republicans are misunderstanding and incorrectly applying the Hobby Lobby ruling.

Read more of our coverage on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases here.

Wisconsin will no longer enforce the state’s contraception benefit rule for employers with religious objections, because of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling.

On Monday, a spokesperson from Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration told the conservative website Media Trackers that Wisconsin will no longer require employers to follow the state law mandating coverage. Current state law in Wisconsin mandates that companies with insurance plans covering certain services, like outpatient care, preventive treatment, and prescription drugs, must also cover contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration and prescribed by a health-care provider.

In its ruling last month, the Supreme Court used the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to argue that the contraceptive coverage requirement of the Affordable Care Act violates the religious rights of certain companies.

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J.P. Wieske, a representative with the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, alluded to the Supreme Court ruling in justifying Wisconsin’s decision, saying that the Hobby Lobby decision “supersedes state statute.”

Reproductive rights advocates and pro-choice politicians in the state argue that Wisconsin Republicans are misunderstanding and incorrectly applying the ruling. In a letter to the Commission of Insurance, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national organization that represents the “views of American freethinkers,” said that “gutting mandatory contraceptive coverage is not required by the Hobby Lobby decision, as any staunch states’ rights defender must know.”

State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) agrees, telling local reporters that “Hobby Lobby concerned the interpretation of federal law. It does not impact our state laws. … [Walker] had no authority to unilaterally decide that this administration is not going to enforce a law passed democratically through the Legislature.”

Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled state legislature has in the past tried to repeal the state’s law requiring contraceptive coverage, known as the Contraceptive Equity law. For example, in 2011, shortly after taking office, Walker added a provision to his budget proposal that would have repealed the Contraceptive Equity law, which was passed in 2009; the provision was eventually stripped from the budget. In 2013, the legislature proposed AB 215, which would have created an exemption for religious organizations.

Andrew L. Seidel, an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the author of the letter, says that the “failure to enforce this mandate has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with imposing conservative religious beliefs on women.”

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