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Nevada Democrats Take Aim at Religious Imposition Against Birth Control Coverage

Nicole Knight

Insurers and the state's Medicaid program would be required to offer a 12-month supply of birth control at no charge. Nevada law today limits people to a 90-day supply.

After Democrats took Nevada’s statehouse in the 2016 election, lawmakers in both chambers have wasted no time advancing legislation to expand access to contraception.

A pair of bills heard Monday in committee would scrap a religious imposition provision in state law that allows insurers affiliated with religious organizations to object to providing contraceptive coverage. AB 249 and SB 233 require public and private health insurance to provide a year’s supply of birth control at a time, along with other reproductive care like sterilizations, with no co-pays or deductibles.

The Democratic legislation enshrines into state law and expands the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), even as congressional Republicans this week unveiled a plan to repeal the President Obama’s signature health-care reform law. The repeal effort could allow states with GOP-held legislatures to nix birth control coverage for insurance plans sold within their borders.

Roughly 55 million Americans have saved $1.4 billion on costs associated with birth control since 2012, when the ACA went into effect, according to a statement from NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada.

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“We knew we wanted to protect affordable contraception,” Caroline Mello Roberson, state director for NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada, which is backing the legislation, told Rewire. “For some folks in rural Nevada, they could be a couple of hours away from a pharmacy.”

All 38 Democratic Nevada state lawmakers, who hold the majority in both chambers, have signed on to co-sponsor one of the bills, the Associated Press reported.

SB233’s sponsor, state Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) said the legislation would help reduce unintended pregnancies and provide a “full range of preventive health services” at no extra charge, including prenatal tests, certain federally recommended vaccinations, disease screenings, and domestic violence counseling, even in the state’s Medicaid program.

State law now limits individuals to a 90-day supply of birth control.

“Between working two jobs and taking 15 credits, it is extremely difficult to make it to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription every month,” said Lisa Perryman, a Reno single mother and civil engineering student, in written support of the legislation.

Dr. Keith Brill, Nevada chair of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in written testimony there’s no medical reason for the three-month cap on birth control. Cost and access to contraceptives, he noted, are common reasons why people either don’t use birth control or have gaps in use.

Research in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology compared a group of California women who received a year’s supply of birth control pills to a similar group that received a one-to-three-month supply. The group with the 12-month supply had a 30 percent reduction in the odds of having an unplanned pregnancy and a 46 percent reduction in the odds of an abortion.

The legislation’s religious provision is facing opposition from religious groups, as the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. A spokesperson for Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said he was concerned about “constitutional or other legal questions,” and wanted more information on the measures.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby gave closely held for-profit corporations the right to object to the ACA’s birth control mandate on religious grounds. The Nevada legislation, however, applies both to insurers and insurance coverage that businesses offer their employees.

“The Hobby Lobby analysis isn’t going to apply because a) we’re dealing with insurers and not employers and b) because there is no state equivalent of a federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and Hobby Lobby was decided under that statute,” Holly Wellborn, policy director with ACLU of Nevada, told Rewire.

Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) told the Associated Press there have been no religious exemption claims in the state.

Separately, New Mexico House of Representatives on Monday passed legislation guaranteeing a 12-month supply of birth control and covering a full range of contraception methods with no co-pays or deductibles, similar to the Nevada legislation.

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