by Joel Davidson, CatholicAnchor.org

The Alaska Legislature is set to hear testimony on three separate bills this week dealing with religious liberty for clergy in performing marriages, the rights of a child born alive during an abortion and the mandatory expansion of contraception availability.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN MARRIAGE CEREMONIES

On March 30 the House Judicial Committee will hear select testimony on HB 236, which would protect clergy and others authorized to legally marry a couple in Alaska. Specifically, the measure clarifies that there is no compulsion to “solemnize a marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges” for the purpose of celebrating a marriage. Any person who refused to marry a couple would not be subject to criminal or civil liabilities for their decision nor could they be penalized by having their tax exempt status, or state or local contracts and licenses revoked.

The proposed law comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last summer to legalize gay marriage across the nation, a decision that religious liberty advocates say could impact the freedom of churches and clergy to refuse to perform or facilitate same-sex weddings and receptions. The hearing for HB 236 takes place on March 30 at 1 p.m. It will be teleconferenced.

CONTRACEPTION MANDATE

The same day, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hear a bill that aims to expand the distribution of all prescription and over-the-counter contraceptives approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Senate Bill 156 would mandate that a health care insurer in Alaska expand coverage for these contraceptives, some of which can cause early abortions. Specifically insurers would have to cover prescriptions for 12 months and may not require the insured person or their dependents to pay copayments, deductibles or other forms of cost sharing for the contraceptives. Additionally, health care insurers would have to provide coverage and reimbursement of contraceptives to spouses and dependents.

A narrow religious exemption is provided for health care insurers that offer insurance to a religious employer who opposes the coverage. An exemption is also provided for organizations that self-certify with the federal government. The exemptions do not address health care plans provided to private companies or non-profits which may have religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.

A hearing for SB 156 will take place on March 30 at 1:30 p.m. and will be teleconferenced.

RIGHTS OF THE UNBORN

A teleconferenced hearing for Senate Bill 179, which aims to prohibit abortions when an unborn child is deemed viable outside the womb, will take place on March 30 in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee at 1:30 p.m. The bill also clarifies that a child born alive during an abortion may be surrendered for adoption.

To follow the hearing on any of these bills, dial (844) 586-9085, or go to a nearby Legislative Information Office during the hearings. Hearing may also be viewed live online at http://w3.akleg.gov/index.php#tab5.