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On Life Support

Bill that would hinder access to birth control survives House committee


Opponents of a proposal to allow Idaho insurers to restrict access to contraception pleaded with lawmakers on Feb. 20 to maintain their coverage. While they didn't walk away with a clear victory, they did convince the majority of the House Health and Welfare Committee to reconsider what they concluded was a flawed piece of legislation.

In its original form, House Bill 530 would have granted insurance carriers the leeway to restrict coverage for contraception, sterilization or abortion-inducing drugs. But lawmakers were quickly reminded that birth control pills are used for other purposes.

"I take birth control pills for chronic ocular migraines," said Dominique Howell. "I view this as discrimination."

Former Coeur d'Alene Democratic Rep. Bonnie Douglas returned to the Statehouse to tell her own story.

"I was a teenager with acne. I have acne scarring," said Douglas. "I really believe this is the wrong direction to go."

An overwhelming majority of speakers testified in opposition to the measure.

"I'm kind of surprised there are so few women on the committee," said Yvette Sedlewicz, who was quickly met with a gavel from the committee's chair, Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Janice McGeachin.

"In Afghanistan, they sell their daughters into marriage and stone women for adultery," said Sedlewicz. "Is that what you're after?"

McGeachin interrupted Sedlewicz, reminding her of the committee's rules of etiquette.

"You're speaking to the motives [of the bill] and that's not appropriate," said McGeachin.

Sylvia Chariton, vice president of public policy for the American Association of University Women of Idaho, told lawmakers that the legislation would "undercut basic health care coverage."

"You're trying to block working women's access, especially poor working women, to contraception," said Chariton. "This is reprehensibly wrong and completely out of touch with today's workplace landscape."

But the bill's sponsor, Emmett Republican Rep. Carlos Bilbao, dug in his heels.

"I want it in clear letters that I don't have to pay for somebody else's abortions or birth control pills," said Bilbao.

Ultimately the committee's two physicians, one Republican and one Democrat, challenged the measure. Democratic Lewiston Rep. John Rusche said the bill's definitions were so broad that it could apply to chemotherapy drugs. Burley Republican Rep. Fred Wood said birth-control pills are used for "treatment of a lot of diseases that have absolutely nothing to do with contraception."

Rusche and Wood unsuccessfully tried to kill the measure, but a substitute motion put the bill on life support, so that the measure could resurface in the future at the discretion of McGeachin for discussion of possible changes. The motion carried by a 7-to-3 vote, with Wood being the only Republican to join the committee's two Democrats in a "no" vote.

Moments later, the committee approved a nonbinding memorial opposing the Affordable Care Act's requirement to provide coverage for contraception. That vote was 7-to-2 along party lines. Wood had since excused himself from the proceedings.