by Paul Nowak
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
August 19, 2004
Madison, WI (LifeNews.com) — Employers in Wisconsin that provide prescription drug coverage to employees must now include contraceptives, including the sometimes-abortifacient "morning after pill." The state’s decision is a blow to organizations that have a moral objection to birth control, as there is no exception for churches or other religious entities.
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager announced the decision Monday, and defended the specific inclusion of the morning after pill.
Lautenschlager said she issued the formal opinion, which can be cited in court opinions, in response to a request from Department of Health and Family Services Secretary Helene Nelson.
"Our sense is that when it comes to prescription contraceptives, you cannot make exclusions, because it has gender-equity impacts, and only women get pregnant," Lautenschlager said.
In the written opinion, Lautenschlager said that to deny coverage of contraceptives is a violation of both federal state laws, and jeopardizes women’s access to equal health care.
Pro-life leaders and lawmakers denounced the decision.
"If you’re using her [Lautenschlager’s] argument there, what is holding back forcing employers to provide abortions," asked State Sen. Tom Reynolds (R-West Allis).
Abortion advocates are hailing the decision, saying there has been a struggle in Wisconsin to get such a measure passed in the legislature.
Lisa Boyce, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, claimed the opinion as a victory, as it made passing a law to the same effect unnecessary.
"There should not be a need for an independent law because the attorney general’s ruling is quite clear," Boyce said. "Coverage should be provided or companies will be guilty of discrimination."
"Access to contraception is central to women’s productivity and equality," added Kelda Helen Roys, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. "The average woman uses contraceptives for nearly three decades – without them, she would have 12 to 15 pregnancies. Workers and businesses should applaud Attorney General Lautenschlager for upholding laws that save money and protect our health."
Business owners aren’t thrilled with the opinion either. Jim Pugh, spokesman for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce told the Journal Sentinel that the decision could increase costs for businesses more than Lautenschlager and pro-abortion advocates claim.
NARAL’s Wisconsin affiliate cites a study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, stating that covering the full range of reversible contraceptives would only cost businesses $1.43 per month.
"She [Lautenschlager] is grabbing bits and pieces of information from other courts and jurisdictions that are not binding on the state of Wisconsin," Pugh said. He added that business owners will need lawyers review the opinion and their business policies, at the very least.
Other states have looked at forcing businesses and organizations to pay for birth control coverage in their insurance plans.
New Jersey lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would require insurance companies to cover birth control.
In June, Catholic Charities in California announced it will take its challenge of a similar California law to the Supreme Court, having lost an appeal in March.
The California Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that "religious employers” such as churches are exempt from providing coverage for birth control. But, it said that Catholic Charities is not exempt since it is not a church — but rather a related organization — and because it offers secular services such as counseling low-income housing, and immigration services.