Updated Mar 15, 2012 - 5:39 pm
Bill allowing employers to refuse contraception coverage passes AZ House
The same fight that took ahold of the U.S. Congress is now raging on at the Arizona Legislature. However, the difference is this one looks like it'll end with a different result.
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Glendale) is pushing House bill 2625, which would allow employers to opt out of covering contraception in their company's health insurance plans if they are morally or ethically opposed to the use of birth control for whatever reason.
The bill is patterned after the Blunt Amendment that failed to pass through the U.S. Congress earlier this year. The amendment and HB 2625 both fight the Federal Government mandate for businesses, regardless of their religious affiliation, to provide women with the option to get contraception in health insurance coverage plans.
"We live in America. We don't live in the Soviet Union," Lesko said. "The government shouldn't be telling mom-and- pop employers and religious organizations to do something that's against the moral or religious beliefs. It's just not right."
Professor Paul Bender with the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University says this bill is unconstitutional and that federal law is already in place that allows employees access to contraception through their employer's health care coverage.
"Federal law requires employers to provide health insurance that covers contraception so a state cannot countermand that. The federal law would have to be struck down first," Bender told 92.3 KTAR's Karie & Chuck.
However, the bill is drawing fire from several groups, including the ACLU. Women's privacy issues aside, the ACLU is concerned that the bill could hurt religious liberty instead of defending it.
"This bill goes well beyond defending religious rights," Anjali Abraham, policy director for the Arizona ACLU, said. "It's not defending rights to religious liberty. It allows employers to prioritize their own rights over the beliefs and the needs of their employees."
The ACLU is also concerned that this will be a violation of women's rights. Women who need to use contraceptive for health reasons would still be allowed to ask for coverage. However, they would have to inform their employers of why.
"Women shouldn't have to say why they need the contraceptives. That's their business," Abraham said.
Bender also says that by the state encouraging employers to discourage their employees to use contraception, the employee's freedom is being interfered with and this would give women the right to sue.
For her part, Lesko says she has run the bill by people who understand HIPPA regulations concerning doctor/patient confidentiality, and it has passed muster. She says her bill won't prevent women from getting contraception, it just won't allow them to get it using their company's health plan.
"You can get birth control pills for a cheap price at most any store," Lesko said. "The generic version will only run you about $9."
HB 2625 has passed the House. The same result is expected in the Senate.