It would be illegal for employers in Washington state to provide health insurance plans that discriminate against employees’ by interfering with their access to contraception, under a bill sponsored by virtually the entire Senate Democratic Caucus.
Senate Bill 5026, prime-sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, has 22 Democratic sponsors before the 2015 legislative session has even convened.
“The people of Washington have long supported individual privacy rights and made it clear that discrimination based on sex or interference with a woman’s right to choose or refuse birth control is contrary to the values and laws of our state,” Pedersen said. “This right is ensured by Article One of our state Constitution.”
Under the bill, any employee whose rights are violated may file a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission and also file a civil suit to enjoin further violations, recover any damages, or both, as well as any legal costs including attorneys’ fees.
“Contraceptive care is both a health issue and an economic issue for women. Women who use contraception to plan pregnancies tend to have healthier pregnancies, for themselves as well as their babies, by spacing births apart,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent. “We also know that the earning power of women with reliable access to contraceptive services is 40 percent higher than for those without access. Access to contraception can narrow the gender pay gap.”
“The vast majority of Washingtonians strongly support access to contraception and family planning, and the U.S. Supreme Court decision goes against those core Washington state values,” said, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. “Now is the time to pass this legislation and ensure women have the freedom to make their own health care choices¬ independent of their employers’ values.”
With 22 Democratic senators already in favor of the legislation, the bill could pass the Senate with the support of as few as three Republicans.
“We are reaching out to the more moderate Republican members and, frankly, I would expect this legislation to have the strong support of anyone who opposes discrimination against women,” said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle. “There’s no reason this shouldn’t pass the Senate handily.”
SB 5026 was drafted by a work group of senators, with support from numerous stakeholders, in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. The bill was honed through 15 drafts to ensure that it would be passage-ready for the 2015 legislative session.
“The Affordable Care Act requires health plans to include a comprehensive package of services, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception, but the Supreme Court created a loophole that puts women’s health at risk,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. “This legislation is to close that loophole and make sure health care insurance across our state is consistent with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and with the rights guaranteed by our state Constitution.”