A pro-Planned Parenthood rally in New York City (Pic by WeNews, via Flickr)

Responding to a newly introduced contraception bill, Planned Parenthood is calling upon the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, to remove an exemption in the bill for religious employers.

Detert’s bill would protect a woman’s access to birth control in Florida, stopping any insurance provider from levying steep co-payments for contraception or creating waiting periods for services.

However, the bill also provides an exemption to these requirement for “religious employers,” which Planned Parenthood argues could exclude many women who seek contraception services.

According to a press release from the group, “the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates thanks Senator Nancy Detert (R- 23) for working to increase women’s access to birth control by filing Senate Bill 598.”

The group says in a statement:

Birth control is fundamental to improving women’s health and the health of their families. Now more than ever, women and families need affordable access to essential health care, including family planning. In fact, nearly two million women are in need of affordable access to birth control in Florida alone.

“99 percent of sexually experienced women will have used birth control at some point in their lives, including 98 percent of sexually-experienced Catholic women,” said Judith Selzer, VP of Public Policy for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.”  “Simply put, birth control usage is not only nearly universal, it’s an essential part of women’s preventive health care.”

However, the group warns that the exemption for religious employers “would exclude many women from receiving comprehensive coverage because of their employers’ religious beliefs.”

According to a statement from the group, “SB 598 includes a refusal clause which allows ‘bona fide religious employers’ to exclude coverage of prescription contraceptive drugs and devices. While ‘bona fide religious employers’ is undefined, it could include churches, hospitals, universities, parochial schools, and some charity organizations.”

“Planned Parenthood urges Senator Deter to remove the refusal clause from SB 598 to ensure that all women have access to the health care they need,” the group’s press release says, “including affordable birth control, no matter where they work.”

Reproductive rights advocates have long argued that any exemption that leaves out employees of religious organizations, whether or not they follow the religion of their employer, is discriminatory. These types of exemptions are usually sought by clergy or religious leaders. This despite the fact that most sexually active religious women use contraception in some form throughout their lifetimes.

Non-religious employees who work for a religious employer would also be denied coverage for a legal service because of a religious doctrine they do not prescribe to.

The complaint is a hurdle Detert predicted her measure would encounter when she introduced the bill. She told The Florida Independent her bill was a “middle of the road” approach that would upset the anti-abortion community and the “pro-choice community.” However, she said they would both need to compromise in order for the bill to pass.

Last session, Catholic groups were able to convince the Legislature to include a very broad exemption to providing family planning services for any religious or moral objector. This goes beyond the exemption provided in Detert’s bill.

“At a time when families are struggling with high out-of-pocket health care costs, expanded access to affordable birth control will be a tremendous benefit,” Planned Parenthood says.

“The reality is, one in three women voters (34 percent) have struggled with the cost of prescription birth control at some point in their lives,” said Selzer.  “It’s time to change that.”

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