Few people were surprised last week when the Trump administration issued a rule to make it easier for some religious employers to opt out of offering no-cost prescription birth control to their female employees under the Affordable Care Act. But a separate regulation issued at the same time raised eyebrows. It creates a new exemption from the requirement that most employers offer contraceptive coverage. This one is for “non-religious organizations with sincerely held moral convictions inconsistent with providing coverage for some or all contraceptive services.”
So what’s the difference between religious beliefs and moral convictions? This story originally appeared on Kaiser Health News, a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Two advocacy organizations filed discrimination complaints against an Albuquerque Walgreens pharmacy for allegedly refusing to fill a birth control prescription. The complaint, sent to the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau, was written by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the Southwest Women’s Law Center. The organizations allege a pharmacy employee at a store on Coors Boulevard refused to fill a misoprostol prescription to a teenage woman who was at the store with her mother last August, citing personal reasons. This refusal, according to two complaints, violates the New Mexico Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sex. “Refusing to fill prescriptions that are directly tied to the attributes that make women different from men—i.e. the ability to become pregnant—constitutes sex discrimination,” the complaints read.
Advocates and supporters of reproductive health access and rights unveiled three bills in the state Legislature they say will improve and protect access. This includes measures to preserve birth control access under the federal Affordable Care Act and allow women on the birth control pill to obtain one year’s worth of refills at a time, penalize medical providers that refuse to offer certain reproductive health services and procedures and require workplaces to make “reasonable accommodations” to employees who are pregnant. Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill to expand access to birth control. At a Tuesday press conference for the bills, Armstrong said her measure is in anticipation of contraception access through the ACA “that may be on the chopping block.”
“We’re going to ensure that regardless of what they do federally, in New Mexico we take care of women and families and let them choose what’s best for them in deciding if and when and how often to have children,” Armstrong said. Her bill would guarantee patients access to any type of federally-approved contraception without “having to prove that something else doesn’t work” before obtaining the kind “most appropriate for you,” she said.
Rhetoric on abortion heated up in 2015 after anti-abortion advocates leaked videos of Planned Parenthood officials and Robert Dear violently attacked a clinic in Colorado Springs. But whether the emotional debate comes to bills at the legislative session later this month and next isn’t yet known. Measures impacting abortion rights face odds this year because the upcoming session is focused on the state budget. Gov. Susana Martinez has the sole authority to allow any legislation not related to the state budget to be heard this year. So far, only state Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, has confirmed publicly that she asked Martinez to allow the Legislature to hear a bill that would ban abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy.