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Sponsor promises to narrow contraception bill

A conservative bill that aimed to limit birth control coverage and generated a heated political fight is being revived in the Arizona Legislature.

The proposal’s sponsor has promised to significantly narrow the measure’s focus in an effort to win approval.

The bill, which was introduced by House Majority Whip Rep. Debbie Lesko, was narrowly defeated by the Senate March 28 but is now poised for a new vote.

The Center for Arizona Policy, an evangelical Christian lobbying organization that is advocating for the measure, confirmed that supporters were working on changes. But a spokesman declined to provide details.

Senate President Steve Pierce earlier expressed doubts that the legislation to allow employers with religious objection to deny contraception coverage to workers will return for a second vote.

Pierce previously indicated he was willing to cast the deciding vote in favor of the bill if supporters could get 15 senators to support it during the initial vote.

The bill ultimately failed on a 13-17 vote.

Supporters have argued the legislation is needed to protect religious liberties of employers and other health plan sponsors who should not be forced to pay for contraception if its use violates their beliefs.

But critics objected to the possible loss of coverage and to provisions that could have required women who wanted birth control to prove to employers or insurance companies that it was for a medical purpose other than contraception.

In response those privacy concerns, Lesko had the bill amended in the Senate to specify that only insurers, not employers, would get that information.

Despite the change, the state Senate rejected the measure.

Arizona law currently allows religious nonprofits employing or serving people of only one faith to opt out of the state’s requirement that health plans cover contraception.

Lesko said the planned change would only broaden the current law’s exemption to religious entities, whether or not they employ or serve only members of one faith.

She said a church-affiliated charity serving the public would fit under the new definition.

Once narrowed, the bill no longer would apply to all employers who cite religious or moral objections, she said.

Lesko said the amendments would be made by a conference committee.

That would entail at least two Republicans switching their vote to “yes” on the current bill — with the promise that it would come back for another vote with the new changes.

Meanwhile, one clause in the legislation that hasn’t received as much attention appears to allow health insurance companies to opt out of providing contraceptive care to women it covers.

In Section 1 of HB2625, language is added to state law allowing a “medical service corporation” to assert a religious objection to the use of contraception, after which time it can require women to pay for the coverage and then submit a claim for reimbursement – along with evidence that the prescription is not for “a purpose covered by the objection.”

In current law, “medical service corporations” are one of several groups listed as a “health care insurer.”

With reports from the Associated Press and reporter Luige del Puerto

One comment

  1. I think it is time to stop beating this dead horse. How another woman can work so hard against other women’s rights is beyond me and all under the guise of freedom of religion. I say leave the statute the way it is now and do not expand its reach.

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