Michigan May Allow Employers To Deny Birth Control Coverage To Their Workers

Obamacare’s birth control provision, which helps make women’s preventative health care more affordable by requiring employers to offer contraceptive coverage without a co-pay, enjoys broad public support. Nonetheless, right-wing opponents of the health reform law haven’t yet given up the fight against this particular policy.

Across the country, conservative businesses and institutions are suing the Obama Administration for their right to deny birth control to their workers, and Republican lawmakers have been attempting to pass legislation to empower every employer to do so. Michigan is the latest state to take up this cause. As early as this week, the GOP-controlled legislature may consider a measure that would broaden the state’s “religious conscience” protections to allow employers to deny coverage for any type of care they object to — including birth control, which the bill’s backers cite as one of their particular concerns.

Under state law, medical providers may already refuse to perform abortion services based on their own personal objections. But the proposed legislation would extend that beyond abortion, allowing employers or providers to deny any type of medical service whatsoever. The bill’s opponents point out that it’s a wholly unnecessary measure, as well as a dangerous overreach that could give employers too much power over their workers’ health care:

Supporters say the legislation protects religious freedom and is needed particularly in the wake of the federal health care law mandating employer-provided birth control in their health plans. Opponents counter that the bill is an overreach that wrongly lets health workers and organizations impose their beliefs on patients, putting their treatment at risk. […]

Lining up against the latest measure are hospitals and insurers that say it is a solution in search of a problem. The state’s main group of physicians says it has concerns and is working with [the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. John Moolenaar] to make sure patients’ access to health care could not be hindered.

The Michigan Health and Hospital Association told senators the legislation “elevates the status of employees above the needs of patients.”

Michigan has been somewhat of a leader in the ongoing “religious conscience” fight. Back in September, after a federal struck down a lawsuit against Obamacare led by Republican attorneys general in seven states, Michigan’s AG quickly announced that he would seek to appeal. And in the state legislature, Republicans have been attempting to broaden religious protections for health care insurers and providers ever since 2001. Just last year, Michigan lawmakers advanced a “license to discriminate” measure that would have allowed health providers to refuse to give any service they object to, such as an abortion, an HIV test, or a basic check-up for a transgender individual.


If Michigan’s Republicans looked to other states’ examples, however, they might realize these initiatives aren’t likely to succeed. After Missouri enacted a similar law to allow employers to flout Obamacare’s birth control provision, a federal judge struck it down, ruling that it contradicted federal law. States may not actually pass laws to supersede the federal health care reform law, although that certainly hasn’t stopped GOP-controlled legislatures from trying.