March 7, 2017

House passes bill to expand contraception access

Laura Paskus

The state House of Representatives approved a bill to preserve contraception coverage put in place as part of the federal Affordable Care Act and expand some access on a mostly party-line vote Monday evening.

Three Republicans—state Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes and Nate Gentry of Albuquerque and Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences—joined ranks with Democrats to approve the bill.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, would expand access to contraceptives by requiring health insurance plans to allow women to obtain up to 12 months of their birth control prescription at one time. The bill would expand the types of contraceptives available over the counter and include condoms and vasectomies in health insurance plans.

Related: House committee stalls another round of abortion bills

The bill would also preserve provisions in the ACA that expanded access to contraceptives, even if Congress repeals or overhauls the federal health care law.

Screenshot by Joey Peters

Rep. Deborah Armstrong, right, and her daughter Erin Armstrong of the ACLU present a bill to expand contraception access.

During debate, some Republican legislators took issue with the fact that Armstrong’s bill covers the emergency contraceptive Plan B, commonly known as the morning-after pill. Both state Reps. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, and Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, referred to it as “the abortion pill.”

Plan B prevents female eggs from ovulating and does not terminate a developing fetus, Armstrong explained.

“Then how can we use it up to five days after [fertilization]?” Ezzell asked.

In fact, sperm can stay in a woman’s fallopian tube for up to five days before fertilization. When the egg is fertilized, it can remain in the fallopian tube for as many as three to four days before ovulation.

If a fertilized egg already ovulated, Plan B will not work. Doctors recommend taking the emergency contraceptive as soon as possible after unprotected sex, as the chances of preventing pregnancy are reduced with time and effectively end after five days.

There are pills available to terminate a pregnancy, but Plan B is not one of them.

Little also expressed concern about religious businesses like Hobby Lobby and their ability under Armstrong’s bill to opt out of its provisions.

Screenshot by Joey Peters

Rep. Deborah Armstrong, right, and her daughter Erin Armstrong of the ACLU present a bill to expand contraception access.

“This does have a religious exemption,” Armstrong responded. “If they’re not regulated under state law now, they won’t be any further.”

Related: Senate committee tables ‘20-week’ abortion ban

State Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, lamented that religious groups never get upset about health care plans that cover male sexual issues like erectile dysfunction.

“Men have opportunities to boost their vitality through Medicaid and Medicare. Those are taxpayer-funded programs,” Trujillo said, pointing to what she called “a real wide coverage gap when we have healthcare for women and healthcare for men.”

Trujillo continued: “Why would the public possibly want to subsidize this coverage like Viagra when God does not want them to procreate?”

The bill now moves to the state Senate with less than two weeks to go in the legislative session.