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  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    New Hampshire House Speaker, William O'Brien is met by demonstrators in front of the State House, Wednesday afternoon after a vote passing an amended bill to give employers the option to provide contraception to women. Several hundred people gathered in front of the state house to voice their opposition to the bill.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Alynn Hayward, of Wentworth holds a banner that expresses his views on a house bill that would give employers the option to provide contraceptives to their female employees based on their values. Later in the morning an amended version of the bill was passed.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Nancy Schoeller, left, of Danbury, and Patrice Martin, right, of Wimot, sit on the steps of the State House in Concord, Wednesday morning to protest a house bill that would give employers the option to provide contraceptives to their female employees based on their values. Later in the morning an amended version of the bill was passed.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    An usher in the House Chamber points to open seats in the balcony as he holds signs that people opposed to a house bill that would allow employers to not provide contraceptive coverage to their employees based on the companies' religious values, Wednesday morning in Concord.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Dr. Oge Young, an OBGYN of Concord waits in line for a seat in the House balcony, Wednesday afternoon during discussion over a bill that would allow employers to deny their employees contraception coverage in their healthcare plan. The bill passed, but well short of the two-thirds needed to override a Gov. Lynch veto.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Women seated in the balcony of the House chamber display their support for a representative speaking in opposition to a house bill that would allow employers to not provide contraceptive coverage to their employees based on the companies' religious values, Wednesday morning in Concord.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    A mass of people gathered outside of the State House, Wednesday have their opinions summed up by one sign. A house bill that would allow employers to not provide contraceptive coverage to their employees based on the companies' religious values was passed, Wednesday morning in Concord.
Thursday, March 8, 2012

House passes contraception exemption for all employers

CONCORD – The New Hampshire House of Representatives on Wednesday endorsed carving out an exemption allowing any employer with a religious objection to refuse to cover women’s contraception in its health insurance plans.

The 196-150 vote sends the proposed legislation, HB 1546, to the state Senate, where it faces an uncertain fate.

The House vote falls well short of a two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto from Gov. John Lynch. The governor, a Democrat, has not said he would veto the bill but has been sharply critical of it.

New Hampshire is one of 28 states requiring insurers to include contraceptives as covered prescriptions in health plans.

The state passed its mandate in 1999.

Opponents of the legislation filled the gallery. Many had been taking part in a demonstration outside and came in to make their voices heard during debate on the bill.

The move by President Barack Obama to adopt a no-copay mandate for women’s contraception nationwide sparked this initiative led by House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, to alter the mandate.

“If you really think about it, the idea our friends are proposing are to force people to cover things they don’t want so people that do want it don’t have to pay for it,” said Rep. Andrew Manuse, R-Derry, a supporter of the legislation.

Opponents of the bill shouted at O’Brien as he walked into the Statehouse.

Rep. Christopher Serlin, D-Portsmouth, said the law was passed because women had to pay some of the cost for birth control pills while condoms for males could be bought over the counter and were not prescription drugs.

“This was a gender equity issue; men and women should be treated equally when it comes to contraceptives,” Serlin said. “The issues of religious liberty do not exist.”

The amended bill would let any employer be able to drop this mandate if the owner had a religious objection to it.

The two declared Republican candidates for governor, Ovide Lamontagne of Manchester and Kevin Smith of Litchfield, have said they would support a more limited exemption for those who control “religious organizations” such as Catholic Charities, Catholic Medical Center in Manchester and Catholic colleges that exist in the state.

Former House Speaker and House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli of Portsmouth said O’Brien’s leadership has been fixed on social issues.

“Unfortunately, this has been the story at the Statehouse for the past 14 months; bills that would be laughed out of any living room in New Hampshire have strong support among Republicans in the Statehouse,’’ Norelli said.

House Deputy Speaker Pamela Tucker, R-Greenland, said this legislation was not about a woman’s reproductive freedom, but the First Amendment rights of religious groups to have their views respected.

“Resorting to distortions such as any allegation that this is about denying women’s health or is an anti-contraception issue is intellectually dishonest,” Tucker said.

Rep. Jennifer Daler, D-Temple, said this mandate had the overwhelming support of the Republican-led House when it passed 12 years ago.

“Contraceptive coverage is a basic part of women’s health care. We must not allow political ideology to be more important than reliable, quality healthcare for women,” said Daler who serves in the same House district with O’Brien.

Last week, the House approved a nonbinding resolution calling on Congress to undo the Obama rule on contraceptive coverage.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.