Proposed Texas House Resolution on Birth Control Sends a Message on Women’s Health Care

by Dan Quinn

On Wednesday the Texas House Select Committee on Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility will consider a resolution condemning the federal requirement that most employers include coverage for contraception in health insurance for their employees. HCR 32, by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, lacks the force of law, but its passage would send an alarming message that says the Texas House thinks it’s just fine if bosses impose their personal religious beliefs on the health care decisions of their employees. And it would make clear that women’s health care simply isn’t a priority in Texas.

Here are some points House members might want to keep in mind as they debate this issue:

  • In a February poll for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, 56 percent of registered voters in Texas – including 56 percent of Catholics and 51 percent of Protestants – said they opposed allowing employers to deny their employees insurance coverage for birth control because it violates their religious or moral beliefs. The poll was conducted jointly by the Democratic firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and the Republican firm of Chesapeake Beach Consulting.
  • According to the same poll, 68 percent of registered voters in Texas said women having access to family planning and birth control, regardless of their income, is important.
  • The federal birth control mandate exempts churches and other houses of worship as well as other faith-based, nonprofit employers like universities and hospitals.
  • A court brief from Americans United for Separation of Church and State notes that giving for-profit businesses an exemption from the mandate could open the door to other employers denying insurance coverage for medical treatments ranging from blood transfusions to psychiatric care. Employers whose religions bar the consumption of animal byproducts could even refuse to offer insurance coverage for medicines that include a gelatin coating, even if their employees did not share their employers’ religious beliefs.
  • HCR 32 notes that “many evangelical leaders consider” emergency contraception to be “abortion-inducing drugs.” Those evangelical leaders might think that, but medical authorities have said that the science doesn’t back up such claims.
  • Many faith leaders support public policies that protect women’s access to birth control. In fact, 371 clergy members in Texas – including Christians, Jews and other non-Christians – have signed on to a statement supporting birth control access for all Texas women.

You can watch video from the committee hearing here. The meeting is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. or upon adjournment of the full House (whichever is later). The agenda is here.

Rep. Stickland is also the author of House Bill 649, which would have the state reimburse employers for federal penalties they must pay if they do not include birth control in health insurance coverage for their employees. The House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on HB 649 on March 13. The committee has not yet voted on the bill. (More on HB 649 here.)