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Democrats denounce GOP bills as war on women’s health, choices

Sen. Linda Lopez, a Tucson Democrat, lashes out against Republican legislation that would force women to prove to their insurance companies that they’re taking birth control for medical reasons if their employer does not cover contraceptives based on religious objections. Lopez was joined by other House and Senate Democrats to denounce that bill on Wednesday, March 21 on the House lawn, saying it would restrict women’s abilities to make their own health care choices. Republicans who support the contraception measure say it protects religious freedom of employers. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Democratic legislators continued to denounce what they call Republican attacks on women’s rights, criticizing today three House bills that they say would reduce women’s abilities to make their own health care decisions.

At a press conference on the House lawn, Democrats mostly targeted HB2625.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R -Glendale, would revise a 2002 statute that allows religious employers to opt out of purchasing health insurance that covers prescription contraception. The new bill would expand the exemption to all employers who have a religious objection to contraception. Women who are prescribed contraception for reasons other than birth control would have to submit a separate claim to have their prescription covered by insurance.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson and Rep. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said they worry that women would not be able to make decisions about their bodies if they were restricted access to birth control.

“If a woman cannot control her own reproductive self it can impact not just her health but her economic situation,” Lopez said.

Also troubling to the lawmakers is the idea that a woman would have to clear it with her boss if she needed contraception to control a medical condition, an idea that Lesko says is a lie spread by Democrats and the media.

The bill’s sponsors say they are amending the bill to make it clear that a woman would go through insurance, not her boss, to have contraception covered. But Hobbs insists that it’s an invasion of privacy either way.

“It doesn’t matter if women are required to provide these medical details to their employer or to an insurance bureaucrat; it’s still an invasion of privacy,” Hobbs said.

Lesko’s bill also removes and anti-discrimination clause from the 2002 statute, a change that Democrats say would allow employers to fire women for using birth control.

“Being a woman in Arizona should not be a preexisting condition it should not be a fireable offense,” Lopez said. “What a woman does with her life and her body should be determined by herself, not by Rush Limbaugh legislators.”

“I’m not sure why you’d remove a prohibition unless you want to allow the prohibited behavior,” Hobbs said.

Lesko insisted that her bill has nothing to do with women or women’s rights but that it is about religious freedom and getting rid of government mandates. She also said she is working on an amendment to prohibit employers from discriminating against women who use contraceptive drugs.

“I am a woman I would never do anything to hurt women’s rights,” Lesko said. “My bill does one thing and one thing alone. It allows an employer who has a religious objection to opt out of that mandate.”

Lopez said if the issue at hand was really religious freedom, Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses would be allowed to refuse blood transfusions and life saving medical procedures.

Lesko was quick to point out that women would still be able to obtain birth control, just not through insurance.

Deborah Sheasby, legal counsel with the Center for Arizona Policy, said places like Walmart carry birth control for $9 and though it may not work for everyone, it is one of many options for contraception.

Democratic Rep. Matt Heinz, a hospital physician in Tucson, said this cheap form of birth control has high levels of estrogen and many side effects, and that many women simply cannot take it.

“It’s time for the state of Arizona to leave the practice of medicine to doctors,” Heinz said.

Heniz said, too, that he is disturbed by the trend toward attacking medical patients, specifically female patients. He says changing these laws is poor policy.

“(Allowing birth control) is good public health policy. It was good public health policy 50 years ago, it still is,” Heinz said.

Other bills that the Democratic legislators oppose are HB2800, which would cut off public funding of Planned Parenthood, and HB2036, which would criminalize doctors who perform most abortions after 20 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy.

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