At a community center two blocks from a Hobby Lobby store slated to open this week, several state Senators unveiled a proposed legislative solution to the limits of birth control choices allowed under last summer’s US Supreme Court decision, (Burwell…et al v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, June 30, 2014).

Senators Karen Keiser (D-33), Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36), David Frockt (D-46), and Kevin Ranker (D-40) along with Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-43) have worked on a legislative proposal that finds:       

”In Washington barrier-free access to birth control remains a fundamental right and that discriminating against women through limitations on access to essential health benefits is against the public policy of this state and subject to the jurisdiction of the human rights commission and the state’s law against discrimination.”

The senators pointed out that in 1972, Washington voters approved Article Thirty-One of the state constitution providing for equal rights for women.  Additionally, in 1991, Washington voters approved Initiative 120, the “reproductive privacy act” that states every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control.

Unfortunately, with the “Hobby Lobby” Supreme Court decision, some employers now feel empowered to impose their religious beliefs opposing reproductive health choices on their employees.  Because the Affordable Care Act removes an individual’s access to insurance plans on the state’s Health Benefit Exchange once an employer makes an offer of health coverage, the employer’s offer is the only choice employees may access without an undue burden. 

Because employer insurance benefits are protected in federal law by both the ACA and ERISA, (Employee Retirement Insurance Security Act), the senators decided that the most successful approach to ensuring fundamental individual reproductive rights would be to use the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the state Human Rights Commission enforcement provisions.

But this proposal may not be successful, and Washington women will still be left in the lurch, if the Republican caucus remains in control of the state Senate after the November elections, the senators predicted.  Republicans blocked votes on the Reproductive Parity Act in the state Senate last year, and if Republicans such as Andy Hill, Mark Miloscia and Steve O’Ban are elected or re-elected this year, it is unlikely that any progress on ensuring individual reproductive choices will be achieved. 

Hill in particular has claimed to support a women’s right to choose while opposing important pro-choice legislation. Voters deserve to know whether Hill would go against his conservative caucus to help move legislation protecting contraception to the floor.

“This is a cold, hard reality for the women of Washington state,” the senators said, “We have to do what we can to ensure that all women regardless of who they work for, will have equal rights and individual choice for their reproductive health decisions.“