MONTGOMERY - State Rep. Lynn Greer took to the House floor Tuesday night, saying that small business owners and others shouldn’t have to pay for employees’ birth control or “abortifacient drugs” if it offends their religious beliefs.
“I don’t want to pay for anyone’s abortion,” said Greer, R-Rogersville, a business owner.
The bill known as the Religious Liberties Act of 2013 passed the House 67-28. It now goes to the Alabama Senate.
Greer’s bill applies to “religiously motivated employers” and it defines them as church-affiliated ones or “any entity that has 10 or less shareholders, members, or partners who have religious beliefs which oppose contraceptive or abortifacient drugs, devices, or methods.”
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, labeled Tuesday as “Attack Women’s Reproductive Rights Day” in the Statehouse, after a bill to increase regulations on abortion clinics passed in the House prior to Greer’s bill.
“We’re always punitive about this,” Todd said. “We say we don’t want women to have abortions, but we don’t want them to have access to birth control.”
Other Democrats said the bill’s passage shows Alabama is looking for a fight with the federal government, a fight the state will lose when it’s declared unconstitutional in court.
“Will you keep up with it, when it’s challenged, how much money are we spending to defend it?” Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, asked.
Part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act requires most employers, including faith-affiliated hospitals and nonprofits, to provide health insurance that includes artificial contraception, including sterilization, as a free preventive service.
More than 40 lawsuits have been filed by religious nonprofits and secular for-profit businesses claiming the mandate violates their religious beliefs.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said employees shouldn’t have to divulge their medical histories to employers in order to have coverage.
He also said many women take birth control for medical reasons, not to prevent pregnancy.
“Maybe you ought to have a conversation with a woman. They will tell you that birth control is for more than just (contraception),” England said.
Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatom, a pharmacist, questioned Greer on a statement that people can buy birth control for $10 a month.
“If you can find a pack of birth control for $10 a month, I want to buy a truckload of them,” she said.
Planned Parenthood’s website says birth control pills cost “about $15-$50 each month.” The Associated Press reported that “the pill has a huge (price) range, from $9 a month for generics to $90 a month for some of the newest brands, plus a yearly doctor’s visit for the prescription.”
Beech also asked Greer if his bill would apply to the erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra and Cialis.
Greer found vocal support on the floor from one GOP companion.
Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, said the bill protects small business owners. Greer said they have a First Amendment right not to provide birth control.
“I shouldn’t have to violate my constitutional rights for anyone else, especially if I’m the employer,” Greer said.
He said employees who don’t like the rule have the right to find other employment.
Greer’s bill is one of the House GOP leadership’s “We Dare Defend Our Rights” priority list of bills.
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, said after the vote that he “held his nose and voted for it.”
Mary Sell can be reached at mary.sell@TimesDaily.com.