Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, center, along with supporters of the "Boss Bill," from left, Andrea Miller, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and Sen. Liz Krueger. The legislation would prevent employers from claiming religious freedom in order to prevent female employees from receiving reproductive services through their employer health insurance. Photo by Kelly Fay.
March 10, 2014With the Women's Equality Act stalled in the Senate Labor Committee, advocates want to ensure that the reproductive health rights secured by the Affordable Care Act aren't threatened in New York.
Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, unveiled the "Boss Bill" (S.6578-a/A.8769) on Wednesday that would ban employers who claim religious freedom as the reason for not providing health insurance access to women's reproductive health care such as birth control.
"Now is the time for New York to make clear that a boss' personal beliefs do not trump a woman's health and access to the health care they need," said Krueger. "The fact that I take a job with somebody who may not share my views about family planning and reproductive health doesn't mean they get to tell me I can't use a certain kind of contraception, I can't access certain kinds of health care or they will fire me. That's completely unacceptable but currently protected under New York state Labor Law."
The legislation was drafted following news reports of lawsuits by employers looking to deny female employees birth control coverage, including the company Hobby Lobby, which is suing the federal government claiming the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate infringes on religious freedom.
"We're talking about women's reproductive health care and access to that includes infertility, and whether or not your boss agrees with your rights to access infertility technologies. [We're] talking about our employees being able to access contraception, pharmaceuticals, procedures or basic health care," said M. Tracey Brooks, CEO of Family Planning Advocates of New York. "This is an issue being touted in religious freedoms, and the one thing I'd like to address today is that employers are not allowed to impose their own religious freedom on somebody who chooses not to practice or to practice a different religion in the United States."
The group Concerned Clergy for Choice applauded the legislators' move to protect women's reproductive rights, saying the proposed legislation protects the basic rights of women.
"Our faith urges us to protect the worker, just as the Bible teaches," said Rabbi Dennis Ross, director of Concerned Clergy for Choice. "When a woman's health insurance comes from the workplace, she earned that insurance, just like she earned her wages. The insurance belongs to her and the decision to use birth control belongs to her. Another person's religious restrictions have no place in her private, personal medical care."
Advocates stated not passing the bill is ensuring that employers who hire from the general public can discriminate against women — such as unwed mothers and women who are looking to start a family. They also say the bill is about protecting the privacy of women in the work place and keeping a professional relationship between employees and employers.
"State legislators, extremists in Congress, they're colluding to strip away our reproductive rights, one piece at a time," said Andrea Miller, president of NARAL Pro-Choice NY. "At the same time they have joined in a nationwide effort to make it possible, in fact, make it part of the law to allow discrimination in the context of employers being able to essentially undermine, if not eliminate, a woman's ability to make reproductive health decisions and act against her because she makes her own reproductive health decisions."
"This is a very important piece of legislation, something we never thought we would have to move forward to implement," Jaffee said. "This will protect an individual's rights to access basic health services without interference. This underscores the need to also move forward and pass the full Women's Equality Act as well. Employers should not have the right to make healthcare decisions for their employees. Denying millions of women access to affordable birth control is denying them access to fair and preventive health care."