AUGUSTA – More than 30 Democratic women in the Legislature are calling on Attorney General William Schneider to remove his name from a letter opposing a federal mandate that employers’ health insurance plans cover contraception.

The group delivered a letter to Schneider on Friday, two days after his stand was criticized by the Maine Women’s Lobby and other advocacy groups.

“We were incredibly disappointed to learn that you recently joined a national effort to oppose a federal health care law requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptives for all women no matter where they work,” the letter says. “We are urging you to remove your name from the effort to threaten the law that simply ensures all women have access to preventative health care in our state and country.”

In an interview earlier Friday, Schneider stood by his decision to sign the letter.

He said the mandate is unconstitutional because it requires employers to provide insurance, and therefore requires them to cover contraception.

Schneider and 12 other Republican attorneys general signed the letter to the Obama administration, dated Feb. 10, saying the new mandate is unconstitutional because it “would compel religious organizations, hospitals, universities and social service entities to subsidize contraceptive products and services which clearly violate their religious beliefs.”

The federal mandate exempts only churches.

As a state representative in 1999, Schneider supported a similar mandate that became Maine law. The law, which the attorney general is bound to defend in court if necessary, exempts churches and religious primary and secondary schools.

Unlike the federal rule, Maine’s law doesn’t require any employer to provide insurance, Schneider noted.

The letter presented to Schneider on Friday was signed by 32 female legislators, including House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono.

The letter says, “As you know, Maine’s contraception equity law was passed in 1999 with bipartisan support because Maine lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the idea that women should have equal access to birth control as a matter of health and common sense. You yourself voted in support of the measure when you served in the Maine House at the time, making this most recent action most surprising and troubling.”

Cain said Schneider, a Republican, apparently was politically motivated to sign the letter.

“The attorney general is there to defend Maine’s laws when they are challenged,” she said, “and the fact that Maine has this law, and in fact the attorney general voted for it, (signing the letter) just seems contradictory.”

Maine’s law requires employers with commercial health insurance plans to cover contraception. Churches are exempt, as are religious primary and secondary schools.

Hospitals, universities and social service entities — religious or not — must provide the coverage under state law, unless they don’t offer prescription coverage or they self-insure.

Schneider said in the interview Friday that he stands by his opposition to the federal law, and his support of Maine’s law.

“The Maine law, because it operates differently, is great. I’d vote for it again today,” he said.

He said he would have no problem defending the state law against a legal challenge.

“I’ve been a great advocate for women’s health care and access to contraceptives,” he said. “To me, signing onto the letter was a strictly legal issue.”

Schneider said he also was asked to sign onto a lawsuit filed Thursday by attorneys general in Nebraska and six other states, but declined.

He said the federal rule is now being revised and he wants to see the details before deciding whether to sign onto a challenge.

Late Friday, Schneider sent a letter back to the legislators saying he continues to be a strong supporter of contraception access and Maine’s law.

“Maine’s law requires health insurance policies offered in Maine to include coverage for contraceptives; it does not require religious employers to buy these policies,” he said in the letter.

Federal law, on the other hand, would require those employers to offer policies in violation of their beliefs and the Constitution, he said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]

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