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Bill allowing employers to deny contraception coverage advances

Any business with a religious objection to contraception would be allowed to not include it in their insurance coverage under a bill that was approved by a Senate committee Monday.

Current law allows only religious employers, which are defined as nonprofit groups that primarily employ and serve persons who share their religious tenets, to provide health plans that don’t cover contraceptives.

The measure, HB2625, eliminates the definition of “religious employer” in statute.

It also deletes current law that prohibits a religious employer from discriminating against an employee who has independently obtained a health insurance that includes contraception.

The proposal advanced amid a raging debate over contraceptives at the national level following the passage of the 2010 health care law that requires employers to offer preventive care, including birth control.

The proposal’s backers view it as a step toward fully protecting people’s religious rights.

But critics said it flies in the face of women’s ability to decide what’s best for their health and violates their privacy.

“We live in America. We don’t live in the Soviet Union, and so government shouldn’t be telling employers — Catholic organizations or mom-and-pop employers — to do something that’s against their moral beliefs,” said House Majority Whip Debbie Lesko, the bill’s sponsor.

Lesko said the bill “restores religious liberty” in Arizona.

But Anjali Abraham of the American Civil Liberties Union said the bill goes beyond guaranteeing a person’s right to practice his or her faith.

“Instead, (it) lets employers prioritize their beliefs over the beliefs, the interests (and) the needs of their employees, and in this case particularly, female employees,” she said.

Abraham also raised privacy issues against the proposal.

Under the bill, once an employer issues an affidavit stating a religious or moral objection to providing contraception coverage, the onus falls on the employee to prove that a prescription she is seeking is not covered by the religious objection.

But Anjali said this leads to a situation where a woman who needs the contraception to treat or prevent a medical condition must reveal details about her health to her employer in order to get reimbursed.

“In the past, this has been private medical information,” Abraham said.

Liza Love, who survived endometriosis, a health condition that can be treated with birth control pills, said the proposal interferes with her ability to choose what’s best for her health.

It also takes away her privacy rights, she said.

“Nothing that has been said here today or that was expressed indicates to me that it’s something that would religiously violate anything from anyone,” she said, referring to her ability to get contraception coverage.

Sen. Steve Yarbrough, a Chandler Republican, said the free exercise of religion needs to be fully protected, and passing the bill helps to accomplish that goal.

The final vote for the bill was 6-2, with Republicans supporting the bill and Democrats opposing it.

After a check for constitutionality, the bill will be considered by the whole Senate.

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