- Associated Press - Friday, July 18, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan said Friday that she is hopeful a federal bill requiring employers to offer contraception in their insurance plans can be resurrected in the U.S. Senate - despite a Supreme Court decision partially rejecting such coverage.

The bill, which failed in Washington this week, is just shy of the votes necessary to move it forward, said Hagan, who held a news conference in Raleigh with Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina President Janet Colm.

Hagan’s visit comes as Democratic and Republican senators vie for women’s votes this fall, when Republicans need to pick up six seats to gain a majority in the chamber. Women’s issues, such as providing insurance coverage for contraception, are likely to have a prominent place in North Carolina’s contested Senate race.

The bill is meant to offset the Supreme Court’s decision last month involving the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts company. The court’s ruling allowed some religiously oriented businesses to opt out of the federal health care law’s requirement that contraception coverage be provided to workers at no extra charge.

“We are here to stand up for what we thought was a commonly shared value: that an individual’s health care decisions are between her and her doctor, not her and her boss,” Hagan said.

Colm said the Supreme Court decision “sent a clear message: In the year 2014, it’s better to be a U.S. corporation than an American woman.”

Birth control is used by women for a variety of reasons outside of planning pregnancy, including preventative care for ovarian cancer and other diseases, Hagan said.

“Employers who make their employees pay out-of-pocket for contraceptives just aren’t imposing their personal beliefs,” she said. “They’re also making it much more difficult for women to access important, potentially lifesaving medical prescriptions and medical treatment.”

Hagan is running for re-election this year. Planned Parenthood’s national president has said its political arm would spend $3 million on voter mobilization to help re-elect her.

Her opponent, House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, supports the Hobby Lobby decision.

“Thom agrees with the Supreme Court that closely held businesses have a right to religious freedom,” said Tillis’ campaign spokeswoman Meghan Burris.

Hagan criticized the budget priorities of North Carolina lawmakers, who are still mired in protracted negotiations on a state budget. Lawmakers had hoped to adjourn their annual work session before early July.

“I think the situation North Carolina’s in right now is because of the tax cuts that were given to the wealthy and then to balance the budget,” she said. “It looks like education has been the area that has been hit hard. We see that teachers have not gotten a pay raise in 5 years. They deserve a pay raise.”

Hagan, a former state senator, said when she presided over the budget, it was balanced with a high credit rating, an overfunded pension plan and a teacher pay raise.

“We increased teacher pay 21 percent,” she said. “I think those are the priorities that we ought to be addressing now and I think that’s what this General Assembly should be doing with their budget.”

Hagan didn’t comment on the specifics of the current House and Senate budget plan that lawmakers are negotiating, both of which include raises for teachers. The House has proposed teacher pay to increase by 6 percent, while the Senate has countered with an 8 percent raise. Some lawmakers are concerned 8 percent is too high, and would require cuts to education in other areas.

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