Shaheen speaks at roundtable on Hobby Lobby court decision
As a local business owner, Jane Valliere said she’s in charge of plenty of things: marketing, management and establishing the menus for her restaurant, Hermanos Cocina Mexicana in Concord. Whether her employees can choose to use contraceptives is not one of those things, she said at a roundtable organized by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to discuss the implications of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be in charge of telling women what to do with their bodies,” said Valliere, who hosted the roundtable at her restaurant yesterday morning. “It’s astounding to me, nothing that I’ve ever really comprehended. It’s not for me to decide – it’s not for any employer to decide.”
Valliere and others at yesterday’s discussion – a mix of past and present state lawmakers, along with representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire and the Women’s Fund of New Hampshire – condemned the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on contraceptive access and criticized New Hampshire Republicans’ support for the decision.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled that the owners of Hobby Lobby and other closely held for-profit companies could withhold insurance coverage for certain types of contraception, including intrauterine devices and the morning-after pill, on religious grounds. The Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate violated the company owners’ rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s majority opinion.
So far, the ruling is not expected to immediately affect New Hampshire’s contraceptive statute, which passed with broad bipartisan support and was signed into law in 1999 by Shaheen, who was governor. In a statement, New Hampshire Insurance Department Deputy Commissioner Alex Feldvebel said the ruling “does not alter or affect” the state’s requirements.
“According to this 15-year-old New Hampshire law, all employer-sponsored health insurance that covers outpatient services or prescriptions in general must cover outpatient contraceptive services or prescriptions for contraceptives under the same terms and conditions as other outpatient services or prescriptions,” Feldvebel said.
Still, those at the roundtable said they were concerned that the door is now open for future challenges to New Hampshire’s statute. At the federal level, Shaheen said Congress needs to find a way to restore the contraceptive access that was compromised by Monday’s ruling.
Those on the panel said the issue is as much an economic one as a medical one, as the out-of-pocket cost of contraceptives can be a barrier to those who would otherwise benefit from using birth control for pregnancy prevention or other medical reasons.
Some panelists also said they were worried about what the potential challenges invited by Monday’s ruling might mean for their daughters’ or granddaughters’ access to contraceptives. Women’s Fund of New Hampshire Program Director Megan Brabec, the youngest of the group, said she “never imagined that this would be an issue that my generation would have to deal with.”
While much of the discussion focused on the effects of the ruling as they relate to women’s health, Carol Barleon of Bow also spoke out against the decision’s expansion of protections for corporations at the expense of individual citizens.
“It opens the door for various corporations and businesses to go to the Supreme Court and gradually erode the ‘one person, one vote,’ ” said Barleon, who added she was not affiliated with the organizations in attendance.
A campaign issue
In the Granite State, at least, the issue of contraceptive coverage wasn’t always so politically divisive – said Shaheen and two other lawmakers who pushed for the 1999 law: Speaker of the House Terie Norelli and former state representative Liz Hager. But Norelli, a Democrat, and Hager, a Republican, characterized the Supreme Court ruling as “out-of-step” with the ideals of New Hampshire residents.
“Here in the Granite State, we really have a long tradition of being supportive of and respectful of women and their ability to make their own health care decisions, and their ability to access a range of reproductive health care,” Norelli said at yesterday’s discussion.
Hager echoed Norelli and emphasized Shaheen’s past work on such issues.
“New Hampshire people want privacy, they want the right to make their own decisions, and you’ve certainly reflected that in your career over time,” she said, nodding to Shaheen, “and that’s one reason why this decision was so, so discouraging.”
Hager, Norelli, Shaheen and Bette Lasky, a Democratic state senator from Nashua, sharply criticized Scott Brown, who is running against Shaheen for U.S. Senate, and other Republicans who supported the Supreme Court’s decision.
“You always have to be careful when people say, ‘I am pro-choice, but . . .’ ” said Lasky, referencing statements Brown and Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein issued in response to the Supreme Court ruling earlier this week.
They also pointed to Brown’s co-sponsorship of the Blunt Amendment – an attempt to allow employers to bypass the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate on religious or moral grounds, which ultimately failed – as an example of his stance on women’s health issues.
Shaheen said Brown is “trying to have it both ways” in his position on contraceptive access.
“This is a decision that should be made by women. This should not be made by an employer, it shouldn’t be made by the government – it should be made by women,” Shaheen said after the roundtable. “And I think that distinction will be clear to women throughout this campaign.”
The Brown campaign declined to comment in response to yesterday’s criticism, pointing to an earlier statement. On Monday, Communications Director Elizabeth Guyton said Brown “supports women’s health care and access to contraception but by injecting government into every aspect of our lives, Obamacare threatens all our freedoms.”
Havenstein’s campaign did not respond to requests for additional comment. In a statement about the Supreme Court decision, Havenstein previously expressed support for women’s health and access to contraception but said the ruling “exposed one of Obamacare’s fundamental flaws, which is that it imposes a one-size-fits-all answer to every circumstance.”
(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or email@example.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)