Birth Control Debate: New Hampshire, Kansas Lawmakers Take Up Legislation

With birth control issues taking center stage at the federal level with the Obama administration's new rules requiring insurers to provide contraception coverage for workers of religious institutions, the issue has become a centerpiece of some state legislation.

Lawmakers in the Tea Party-dominated New Hampshire legislature are considering a resolution urging the Obama administration to drop the rules, while in Kansas a Democratic lawmaker has proposed legislation requiring emergency room workers to provide information about emergency contraception to rape victims.

Salem Patch reports that New Hampshire House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt (R-Salem) has introduced a resolution urging the elimination of the federal rules. The resolution, to be considered by a legislative committee next week, comes the same day that the White House announced a change in the original proposal -- which would have required the religious institutions to provide the coverage -- to having the insurers provide the coverage.

In Kansas, state Rep. Sean Gatewood (D-Topeka) has proposed legislation requiring that emergency room workers provide rape victims with information regarding emergency contraception. Gatewood's proposal differs from the president's by allowing doctors, nurses and pharmacists to opt out of the requirement, citing religious objections. His proposal comes the same week that GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum attacked his Republican rival Mitt Romney for enacting the same policy while Massachusetts governor, with no religious opt-out.

"We want to say that if this is right for you, it is available," Gatewood said.

Gatewood's legislation has already received a hearing this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where no one testified against it. Gatewood said he has begun receiving private support for his legislation from several Republicans in the Republican-dominated legislature.

The bill has received heavy backing from the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women, which helped draft the measure, according to Kari Rinker, the Kansas state coordinator for NOW. Rinker said the bill is important to provide rape victims with a way to end a potential pregnancy resulting from an attack.

The bill comes as lawmakers debate one of the most sweeping state level anti-abortion bans in the country. The anti-abortion bill includes a variety of provisions, including one that would allow doctor immunity from medical malpractice lawsuits alleging withholding information that could cause women to choose to have an abortion.

Gatewood, who has become a leading opponent of the anti-abortion bill, said he believes the legislation will reduce the abortions in the state.

"Instead of shutting down clinics, let's work on cutting down the number of consumers," he said.