New Hampshire Republicans Slam President Obama Birth Control Rule, Ignoring Their Own
One side effect of the outpouring of Republican outrage over President Barack Obama's new birth control insurance coverage rule is that some GOP lawmakers have been forced to acknowledge the same policies in their own states -- some without religious exemptions.
New Hampshire illustrates the GOP problem. State House Speaker William O'Brien (R) introduced a resolution Friday urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to rescind the Obama rule requiring employers to cover contraception with no co-pay for their employees. O'Brien, joined by state House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt, Rep. Charles Bass (R), a spokesman for Rep. Frank Guinta (R) and Bishop Peter Libasci told reporters at a news conference that Obama's compromise, requiring insurers to cover birth control when the employer morally objects, doesn't go far enough to protect religious freedom.
"This is about ensuring we do not mandate things contrary to people's moral and religious views," Bettencourt said.
Nevertheless, New Hampshire has had a law on the books for more than a decade that requires insurance coverage for contraceptive devices and services -- and the law has no religious exemptions. It passed with strong bipartisan support, and religious organizations in the state have been complying for years without complaint. The only major difference between the state law and Obama's rule is that in New Hampshire, women are still responsible for an insurance co-pay.
Bishop Libasci, head of the Manchester Diocese, said on Monday that New Hampshire's birth control mandate has just now come to public attention and that the House will move to repeal it. But the majority of state representatives, 120 Republicans, 121 Democrats and 2 independents, voted to pass it in 1999. State House Minority Leader Terie Norelli (D-Portsmouth) said none of the Republican lawmakers, bishops or Catholic groups complained about New Hampshire's law until now.
"It certainly appears that this is just a political opportunity," Norelli told HuffPost. "The policy has made a significant difference in the lives of women in this state and the 27 other states that cover contraception, and [New Hampshire House Republicans] will be taking us back if they try to repeal it."
Catholic organizations in New Hampshire have been covering birth control for years, but are now complaining the new U.S. policy would force them to violate their religious beliefs. The Rev. Jonathan DeFelice, president of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, called the mandate "unthinkable."
"In a country and a state that values and respects individuals' right to exercise their religious beliefs and live according to their conscience's best lights, it is simply appalling to think that this mandate is anything other than an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience," DeFelice said in a Jan. 26 statement.
But Saint Anselm College already covers contraception for its employees, under the state law, and voluntarily covers sterilization. When asked about this, school spokeswoman Barbara LeBlanc told the New Hampshire Union Leader, "We comply with the law, but it's not because we like it."
Saint Anselm College did not respond to a HuffPost phone message.
Some Republicans in Congress also are attacking Obama's new policy, despite similar policies in their own states that they have not previously complained about. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) co-sponsored Sen. Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) legislation that would overturn the new birth control rule.
"What the administration has done is really unprecedented," Ayotte said in a recent speech on the Senate floor. "I would call on the president to overturn these Health and Human Services regulations, to stop [his attacks] on religious freedom and to really change the direction of what we have seen."
Blunt's home state, Missouri, also has a birth control mandate. A spokeswoman for Blunt said the state law has broader exemptions for conscience than the U.S. law. But Blunt is demanding that Obama "reverse this unconstitutional mandate in its entirety."
It remains to be seen whether this sudden outpouring of anger over birth control coverage will help or hurt Republicans in November. But Democrats are taking the opportunity to criticize GOP legislative priorities.
"Republicans have demonstrated time and time again that they are not as they claim focused on jobs and the economy, but instead are looking for ways to take away contraceptive coverage for women in our state," New Hampshire's Norelli said.