The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 3, 2013

Mandated birth control exemption planned
By Rebecca Croomes

— In the ongoing debate over health care, the Obama administration is making a stride toward the center of the aisle.

It was announced Friday the president plans to offer an exemption for mandated birth control coverage to hospitals, charities and universities that feel their religious freedoms would be violated by such a mandate.

The same day, Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R- Auburn, in a press release said the state House will propose a bill making President Obama’s health care legislation concerning contraceptives null and void if an employer feels it violates their religious beliefs.

Obama’s plan states that nonprofit employers may opt out, but those employees would still be offered free birth control through a separate insurance plan specifically for this instance. Alabama’s plan provides an out for any type of employer who wants out, but does not make provisions for the employees.

Rep. Dan Williams said he didn’t know how the Obama announcement would affect the plans in Montgomery, but said he would support Alabama’s current proposed measures, known as H.B. 108, or the Religious Liberty Act.

“It seems to do what we want it to do, so maybe the Administration has seen the light,” Williams said.

The Religious Liberty Act and the Obama plan come after months of protests nationwide about a clause in the National Health Care Act, referred to by critics as Obamacare, that stipulated employers would be required to provide insurance coverage for birth control and abortion drugs. Church-based hospitals and businesses owned by openly religious CEOs cried foul and sent complaints to the White House.

After the Supreme Court upheld the health care act, the protests intensified.

Rep. Mac McCutcheon was on the platform committee that helped arrange this session’s legislative agenda. He said the Religious Liberty Act is a response for Alabamians, who contributed the topics for the agenda, based on the theme “We Dare Defend Our Rights.”

“I’m going to be supportive of (H.B. 108),” McCutcheon said. “(Business owners) should have the right to run their business as they see fit. The government doesn’t need to step in and tell a business what they should and shouldn’t do … especially when it comes to religious beliefs or freedoms.”

NAACP State Conference Chairman Benard Simelton of Athens said he had not read the Religious Liberty Act yet, but will have studied it by the time the Legislature opens the floor this Tuesday. The Alabama NAACP has been opposed to Gov. Bentley’s decision to opt Alabama out of the National Healthcare Act and the state’s proposed Medicaid reforms.

H.B. 108 is just one hot-button issue the Alabama Legislature will address as part of the “We Dare Defend Our Rights Agenda.” In addition to health care, other sections include gun control, education and the economy — all states rights controversies.