By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
The battle over contraception has escalated in Colorado with Planned Parenthood officials calling out Colorado’s Attorney General for opposing federal birth control mandates.
Attorney General John Suthers signed a letter this month along with 11 other attorneys general demanding a reversal of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ new requirement that health plans offer birth control coverage.
“We strongly oppose the unconstitutional approach taken by the proposed contraceptive coverage mandate,” the letter reads. “We believe it represents an impermissible violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment virtually unparalleled in American history.”
Tapping into the rage among women that is sweeping the nation as birth control has become a hot topic in the race for president, Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, the political arm of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, quickly took aim at Suthers. They demanded that he abide by Colorado law, which since 2010 has required employers that offer health plans to include contraception.
“To many Colorado women, the discussions about what politicians want to do with women’s health care have been extremely insulting,” Cathy Alderman, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, the group’s political arm, said in a press release. “To see Suthers join in opposition against President Obama’s new path forward simply demonstrates how out of touch he is with Colorado voters.”
Suthers’ spokesman, Mike Saccone, said the letter is a non-issue.
“He did sign the letter. That said, we’re not litigating it. The Attorney General does believe there are serious First Amendment issues with it, but he does not believe the states have standing to raise them. The religious institutions that are affected are able to (fight this) themselves.”
Seven states last week sued to try to block federal requirements that would guarantee birth control benefits for employees, even those who work for religious-affiliated hospitals, schools and outreach programs that might oppose birth control.
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning is leading the court fight along with attorneys general from Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
The lawsuit alleges that the new federal rule will effectively force religious employers and organizations to drop health insurance coverage, which will cause spikes in enrollment in publicly-funding health insurance programs like Medicaid.
Planned Parenthood officials contend that nearly all women, including Catholic women, have used birth control at some point in their lives. Polls have shown strong support for contraception coverage since it can cost as much as $50 per month, a price that some women say is difficult to afford.
“Bottom line, Suthers just doesn’t get it,” said Alderman. “Health care reform should ensure that women are better off after health care reform than they are today; not take away benefits women already rely on.”
Planned Parenthood officials say Colorado is one of 28 states that requires contraception coverage in health insurance plans. Colorado’s requirement stems from HB 10-1021, which former Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law. It guarantees contraception coverage in the individual and small-group health insurance markets.
The most recent tempest erupted over birth control when a Congressional oversight committee composed mostly of men took on the issue. President Obama also stirred the ire of conservatives when he declared that insurance companies will be required to offer contraception benefits even if religious employers oppose them.
Now, two measures are pending in Congress that seek to undo Obama’s ruling. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has sponsored an amendment that would allow employers to excluded any insurance benefit that they deem immoral.
And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, have a separate bipartisan measure seeking to undo the new regulations.
“This has opened somewhat of a Pandora’s box of state and federal legislation,” said Monica McCafferty, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado.
“What we’re seeing are pieces of legislation that are undermining the principle of health care reform in the first place,” she said. “A lot of women are frustrated and irritated that this discussion is even taking place in 2012. This is taking women backward.”