February 21, 2012; Source: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

Georgia State Senator Josh McKoon has proposed a law, Senate Bill 460, to exempt “religious employers” in Georgia from having to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. McKoon has counterparts in the state legislatures of Idaho, Missouri and Arizona who have introduced similar exemption bills for religious employers.

Georgia state law has mandated health insurance coverage for women’s contraceptives since 1999. The language in the existing Georgia law includes this cogent and compelling statement: “Research has shown that 49 percent of all large group insurance plans do not routinely provide coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices. While virtually all health care plans cover prescription drugs generally, the absence of prescription contraceptive coverage is largely responsible for the fact that women spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket expenses for health care than men…”

The inclusion of contraceptive drugs and devices in health care coverage is mandatory in 28 states. In 2000, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) ruled that the failure of an employer to provide coverage for contraceptives when the health insurance plan covers other prescription drugs and preventive care constituted sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That was the guidance that President Obama relied on to mandate coverage for contraceptives in the national health insurance reform program until he bumped into opposition from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

McKoon says he wasn’t aware of the EEOC decision.

NPQ checked the language of McKoon’s bill for his definition of religious employers that would be exempted from contraceptive coverage:

(3) ‘Religious employer’ means an entity that:

(A) Is organized and operated for religious purposes and has received a 501(c)(3) designation from the Internal Revenue Service;

(B) Has as one of its primary purposes the inculcation of religious values; and

(C) Employs primarily persons who share its religious tenets.

There is enough vagueness in that definition to keep constitutional lawyers happy for a long time.

We don’t mean to make too broad a generalization, but the Georgia legislature seems to have a contingent that doesn’t think too kindly of women’s control of their own bodies. Republicans in the state House have also introduced a bill to ban all abortions for women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant. McKoon defends his bill’s focus on women’s contraceptives because, “obviously there’s not an equivalent item when you’re talking about men.” Or is there? Responding to both McKoon’s bill and the abortion bill, the Georgia House Democratic Caucus said it will introduce legislation banning vasectomies. A news release from Democratic Rep. Yasmin Neal explained the vasectomy bill:

“Thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies. It is patently unfair that men can avoid unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly, while women’s ability to decide is constantly up for debate throughout the United States.”

We’re waiting for McKoon’s legislative language on insurance coverage of vasectomies.—Rick Cohen