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A new bill introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a rising conservative star and leading contender for the Republican vice-presidential nomination in 2012, could cut off birth control coverage for millions of women who receive it through their health plans.
Rubio has sold his proposal—introduced January 31 as the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," or S. 2043—as a way to counter President Barack Obama's controversial rule requiring even religiously-affiliated schools and universities to offer copay-free birth control to their employees. But health care experts say that its implications could be far broader.
If passed, the bill would allow any institution or corporation to cut off birth control coverage simply by citing religious grounds. (You can read the bill here or in the DocumentCloud embed below.) It has 26 cosponsors in the Senate; a similar proposal sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has 148 cosponsors in the House. On Wednesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowed to repeal Obama's rule, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointed to Rubio's bill as a potential model for doing so. Here's the key section of Rubio's proposal:
In English, this means that no entity has to cover birth control in a health plan if it can point to a religious reason for not doing so. And the entity itself is not required to have any religious affiliation. It could just be a plain old corporation. That means that if the middle-aged white guy who runs your company is religiously opposed to birth control, he can have it stripped out of your insurance plan—even if his Viagra is still covered. You could wake up the next morning and find you're paying full price for drugs that you once got for free or at much-reduced prices.
"This could be huge," says Judy Waxman, the vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center (NWLC). "It's clearly more than a million women who'd be affected if it were just hospitals and universities [that were affected], but under the Rubio bill it could be any employer. It could be millions."