After three years of work, the Alaska House of Representatives on Monday voted 21-17 to approve a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe up to a year’s worth of birth control on a single script. Currently, doctors may prescribe only three months of contraceptives. The bill also requires health insurers to cover birth control, including devices such as IUDs and implants.
The bill could have a significant impact in Alaska, where according to the latest available statewide figures from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, 70 percent of women 18 and older use some kind of birth control. Oral contraceptives are used by 20 percent of those who use birth control.
House Bill 25, sponsored by Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, now advances to the Senate, where approval is uncertain.
“It’s about time that our access to birth control caught up to the world that we live,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, speaking in favor of the bill on the House floor.
Spohnholz said that in a world where women work on remote fishing boats, oil rigs and on the International Space Station, they should not be held back by access to contraceptives.
The organization Planned Parenthood Votes of the Northwest and Hawaii hailed the passage of the legislation.
“This is a great first step in Alaska, and we are proud to support this legislation,” said Jessica Cler, spokeswoman for the organization, in a prepared statement. “Birth control is basic health care for women and eliminating arbitrary restrictions on insurance coverage of birth control will ensure more women in Alaska can get the care they need and can effectively use the birth control method that works best for them.”
The bill was not universally praised. Members of the House Republican Minority opposed the legislation and were joined in opposition by Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, a member of the majority.
Members of the minority offered a swath of amendments to the bill on Friday, but none were accepted.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, was among the voices speaking out against the bill. She said she believes the contraception requirement may force companies into a difficult choice. If they oppose contraception on moral grounds but offer insurance to their employees, they may be forced to drop their insurance, she said.
Religious organizations are covered by an exemption in the bill, but that exemption is narrower than House Republicans had sought.
Republicans were discomfited by the fact that minors may have access to contraceptives under this bill, even if their parents object. (The Alaska Supreme Court has previously ruled that a minor’s reproductive decisions are covered by the state’s constitutional privacy protections.)
Wilson also said she is disturbed that the bill includes a fiscal note suggesting that the state may save up to $1.35 million a year because improved access to contraceptives will reduce the medical costs of abortions and premature births.
“I just don’t want to send a message to Alaskans that this is going to prevent babies that aren’t wanted,” she said.
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, suggested that forcing Alaskans to pay for insurance that covers contraceptives moves Alaska away from economic freedom and “moves us in the other direction, toward slavery.”
He said the state should not get involved in personal decisions.
Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, responded to that criticism by saying the state should absolutely get involved because the issue is one of public health.
“The state should intervene. There’s a public health reason that the state has a reason to intervene on this and do what we can to make sure that every child can be born into a safe loving home that can take care of them,” Tarr said.
In the Senate, HB 25 has been referred to the health and social servies committee. The chairman of that committee, Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, said he was uncertain if he supports the bill because he hasn’t yet read the details of the version sent by the House.
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