A bill which would allow employers an exemption to pay for health insurance coverage for birth control if they have a religious objection was approved in the New Hampshire House by a vote of 196 to 150.
The vote was held on March 7, while gathered for hours at the Statehouse urging a "No" vote on a number of bills that they say will threaten the health, safety, and privacy of women.
About an hour before the vote, activists began to gather at the Statehouse for a rally.
Susan Arnold, the president of the board of kicked off the rally saying she was excited to see so many people at the Statehouse, organized to talk to their representatives.
“This is outrageous,” she said. “We need to do something … today is our day.”
But the rally was abruptly stopped when advocates realized that a vote was coming up on HB 1546. The crowd quickly filed into the gallery and in the halls waiting for the vote. A number of parliamentary moves ensued, including requests for amendments and roll call votes.
Comments both for and against the bill seemed to come down political party lines.
State Rep. , R-Derry, rose in favor of the bill saying any law or mandate by the government require specific coverage like birth control was unconstitutional and was not about the choice of purchasing birth control.
“In the case of birth control or sterilization, an employee working for a religious organization may have to pay for these things out of pocket,” he said, adding that if birth control pills were prescribed for medical reasons, they would likely be covered.
State Rep. Stephen DeStefano, D-Bow, spoke against the bill and said that the recent sermon at Sacred Heart, the church he and his wife attend, was about hypocrisy and he found it telling after seeing what was going on in the House.
“We can’t wrap ourselves the Bible and religion when we need it,” he said. “If we’re going to wrap ourselves around it, when we need to wrap it all the time. This is not about religion. It’s about health insurance for everybody, on a community basis.”
After DeStefano spoke, cheers went up in the gallery prompting Speaker to call for order while threatening to clear the gallery if people weren’t quiet. Activists in the gallery then resorted to emoting their feelings through hand motions, a process often seen at Green Party and gatherings. When the activists were happy, they held their hands in the air and wiggled their fingers; at the end, after the vote, many stood up and silently held their thumbs down and hissed more.
In the hall, a number of people who were in the gallery began to make their way down the stairs while some of their counterparts held signs and yelled “Shame!” “We’ll remember in November” and “You’re the Taliban – we’re going to send you back to Afghanistan!” as representatives began to exit the hall.
The bill now goes to the state Senate.