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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

NH Democrats say Supreme Court ruling will hurt women; Republicans defend religious rights

NASHUA – A Supreme Court ruling Monday allowing business owners with religious objections to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to employees provoked sharp reactions from lawmakers and advocates in New Hampshire, with some Democrats calling the decision a potential blow to women’s access to health care.

Among those who were disappointed by Monday’s split decision in the Hobby Lobby case was Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who said contraception is one of the biggest health care expenses for women and their families. In a statement, Hassan said she is optimistic that New Hampshire companies will continue to
provide coverage, making the state more attractive to high-quality workers. ...

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NASHUA – A Supreme Court ruling Monday allowing business owners with religious objections to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to employees provoked sharp reactions from lawmakers and advocates in New Hampshire, with some Democrats calling the decision a potential blow to women’s access to health care.

Among those who were disappointed by Monday’s split decision in the Hobby Lobby case was Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who said contraception is one of the biggest health care expenses for women and their families. In a statement, Hassan said she is optimistic that New Hampshire companies will continue to
provide coverage, making the state more attractive to high-quality workers.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster called Monday’s ruling a step backward for women in the state, while Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, another New Hampshire Democrat, questioned what to expect next from “this activist Supreme Court,” saying the 5-4 decision will make some women’s lives more difficult.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen raised similar objections, saying women should make decisions about their health care with their doctors and not their employers.

While Shaheen was serving as governor in 1999, New Hampshire’s Republican-led Legislature passed a bill requiring most private insurance plans to cover contraceptives.

Senate Republicans beat back an effort two years ago to repeal the mandate, which is similar to the contraception clause at issue in the Hobby Lobby case.

After signing the New Hampshire measure into law 15 years ago, Shaheen said she was disappointed by Monday’s decision, which she said jeopardizes basic health care coverage for countless women.

“Blocking access to contraception will have economic and public health consequences that our country cannot afford,” Shaheen said.

With only one Hobby Lobby location in New Hampshire, it was unclear Monday how many employees in the state might experience consequences as a result of the Supreme Court decision.

New England consistently ranks among the least religious regions in the country. A 2012 Gallup poll found that the Nashua-Manchester area is near the bottom of the list of metropolitan areas where residents consider themselves “very religious.”

Adrienne Rupp, a spokeswoman for the Business and Industry Association – New Hampshire, said many New Hampshire employers offered contraceptive coverage before new federal health insurance regulations took effect.

“We haven’t heard from any of our members, frankly, that this was a huge issue for them,” she said.

Nevertheless, some conservatives and Republicans in the state hailed the Supreme Court’s decision, which established for the first time that corporations can express religious views.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the only Republican member of the state’s congressional delegation, said the ruling affirms fundamental religious liberties, adding that Americans “shouldn’t be forced to comply with government mandates that violate core principles of their faith.”

Marilinda Garcia, a Salem Republican vying for Kuster’s seat, said she was “thrilled” at the outcome. Republican gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hemingway praised the court for putting the constitution before “special interests.”

“This is not an issue of birth control, or health care, this is a matter of religious freedom,” he said.

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union took a different view, saying Monday that the central issue in the Hobby Lobby case is whether employers can impose their beliefs on others.

“For the first time, the highest court in the country has said that business owners can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law,” the group said in a statement. “Religious freedom is a fundamental right that the ACLU has zealously protected, but that freedom does not include the right to impose beliefs on others.”

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling was the second in as many weeks that centered around the intersection of reproductive health care and religion. A ruling handed down Thursday struck down a Massachusetts law that established buffer zones around abortion clinics. The decision left uncertainty about how similar legislation set to take effect in New Hampshire will be impacted.

The NHCLU opposed the Massachusetts law on free speech grounds, putting it at odds with Planned Parenthood, one of the country’s largest providers of reproductive health care services for women.

The two organizations were in accord once again when Monday’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case was announced. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England said in a statement that employers should not be allowed to “interfere” in their employees’ decisions about birth control.

“It’s incredible that in 2014, we are still fighting about whether or not a woman should have access to birth control,” the group said. “To the majority of Americans, birth control is not a controversial issue. It’s basic health care.”

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).