CONTRACEPTIVE COVERAGE: Legislature Approves Pill Bill; Wilson Vows Veto
With "one vote more than the needed minimum to pass," the state Assembly yesterday approved legislation that would require California health insurance plans to cover birth control pills and other contraceptives. "If men got pregnant, we would have had this measure years ago," said state Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), sponsor of the bill (Vellinga, Sacramento Bee, 8/27). Hertzberg said he introduced the bill -- called the "Women's Contraceptive Equity Act" -- to reduce women's medical costs, which can be boosted by the $300 a year that birth control pills cost. "The FDA declared the first oral contraceptive safe for use in the United States 38 years ago. This drug has had such a profound impact that even today, it's known simply as 'the pill.' But too many insurance plans still treat women as though they've never heard of it," he said (Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/27). State Assemblywoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego), dressed as a turn-of-the-century suffragette in honor of Women's Equality Day, said the bill would "allow women to control their essence, as they have every right to" (Morain/Vanzi, Los Angeles Times, 8/27).
Pregnancy Is Not A Disease
Hertzberg noted that the bill allows "religious organizations that oppose birth control to be exempted from the requirement," a provision lacking in two previous versions of the bill, which drew vetoes by Gov. Pete Wilson. Nonetheless, the bill was not without opposition in yesterday's floor debate. "You're not insuring for a disease. You're insuring for a natural occurrence. Being fertile for a woman is not a disease. It's not abnormal. ... We might as well insure for combs and brushes and toothpaste," said state Assemblyman Bernie Richter (R-Chico). Republican Jim Cuneen responded, "We shouldn't overlook the cost savings of avoiding unwanted pregnancies. Half of all pregnancies are unintended. This is a chance to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies" (Willis, AP/Contra Costa Times, 8/26). The Los Angeles Times reports that the bill, AB 1112, "was approved 42-23, with five moderate Republicans joining majority Democrats" to accept the measure.
All For Naught?
While the present version of the bill does contain the religious exception that Wilson requested, a spokesperson for the governor said a veto is likely nonetheless. This is due to another provision which states if a woman works for a company that will not provide contraception "on moral grounds," she would have access to contraceptives "instead through a state program for low-income women" (8/27). Charlotte Maxwell Newhart of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted that the list of the groups exempted on moral grounds "would include large hospitals and universities run by the Roman Catholic Church" (Bee, 8/27). This option is available to women in families earning up to 400% of the poverty level, almost $66,000 a year. "The bill creates a huge entitlement of contraceptives and family planning," said Wilson spokesperson Ron Low (Chronicle, 8/27). Planned Parenthood of California implored Wilson to reconsider. CEO Kathy Kneer said, "Today, as we celebrate Women's Equality Day, we ask the governor to stop playing politics with women's health. This bill is about fairness and equity for California's women. The governor should listen to the tens of thousands of Californians who made calls and sent postcards and letters asking him to end gender discrimination in insurance benefits by signing 'The Women's Contraceptive Equity Act'" (PPAC release, 8/26).