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Governor Brewer: Don’t Deny Women Access to Birth Control

Illustration of two women back to back embracing their pregnant bodies.
Illustration of two women back to back embracing their pregnant bodies.
Anjali Abraham,
Public Policy Director, ACLU of Arizona
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May 2, 2012

The debate over access to contraception ain’t over yet. Earlier this year, the Arizona legislature introduced a bill that would allow employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and deny them access to basic health services. Several weeks ago, the bill appeared to be dead, but the bill, HB 2625, came roaring back with a vengeance. Arizona’s legislature passed the bill and it now sits on Governor Brewer’s desk.

Lawmakers were not always so willing to gamble with women’s health and employees’ insurance coverage. For 10 years, Arizona has had one of the smartest contraception equity laws in the country. Under current state law, Arizona employers who offer a health care plan to their employees must provide coverage for contraception. Religious employers, however, have always been exempt from this law, in deference to their religious beliefs. Also, under this law, religious employers cannot discriminate against employees who obtain birth control on their own.

This law has served Arizona and its people very well for a decade. Then along came HB 2625. This bill was designed to allow any employer to deny contraception coverage for religious reasons, This bill doesn’t just target employees of places of worship or non-profit, religiously affiliated organizations, like hospitals. The bill could impact employees of a law firm, a web design agency, or a construction company. In other words, employers that have chosen to hire and serve people of different faiths could deny coverage for basic health care based on their own religious beliefs. Even worse, HB 2625 eliminates the anti-discrimination law that protects women and employees who get their own birth control outside of their employer’s insurance plan.

Recognizing the serious consequences of HB 2625, the Arizona Senate defeated the bill a few weeks ago. After that defeat, supporters of HB 2625 promised to narrow the bill’s reach with an amendment. The amendment was supposed to cover only religiously affiliated employers such as hospitals and food banks. Well, we’ve seen the amendment. It is incredibly broad and it simply doesn’t do the job.

Under the new language, any employer could still deny coverage for birth control by making a few changes to their company’s articles of incorporation and by saying that their religious beliefs are central to how they operate their business. That’s it. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Debbie Lesko said that she wants to exempt just a few businesses from the law, but there are more than 150 businesses in the Phoenix area alone that could qualify as religiously affiliated employers under the new version of HB 2625. They include law firms, web designers, and construction companies, among many others. So nothing has truly changed. By taking advantage of the extremely broad language of HB 2625, any employer that wants to deny coverage for birth control could still do so.

The “new and improved” HB 2625 still eliminates the anti-discrimination provision from Arizona law. There is simply no good reason to scrap this vital protection from the law, but Arizona lawmakers have done it, anyway.

It’s not too late to stop this bad bill from becoming bad law. Urge the Governor to veto the bill now.

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