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Arizona Birth Control Bill Penalizes Women For Using Contraception For Non-Medical Reasons

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Arizona legislators have advanced an unprecedented bill that would require women who wish to have their contraception covered by their health insurance plans to prove to their employers that they are taking it to treat medical conditions. The bill also makes it easier for Arizona employers to fire a woman for using birth control to prevent pregnancy despite the employer's moral objection.

Under current law, health plans in Arizona that cover other prescription medications must also cover contraception. House Bill 2625, which the state House of Representatives passed earlier this month and the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed on Monday, repeals that law and allows any employer to refuse to cover contraception that will be used "for contraceptive, abortifacient, abortion or sterilization purposes." If a woman wants the cost of her contraception covered, she has to "submit a claim" to her employer providing evidence of a medical condition, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome, that can be treated with birth control.

Moreover, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the law would give Arizona employers the green light to fire a woman upon finding out that she took birth control for the purpose of preventing pregnancy.

"The bill goes beyond guaranteeing a person's rights to express and practice their faith," Anjali Abraham, a lobbyist for the ACLU, told the Senate panel, "and instead lets employers prioritize their beliefs over the beliefs, the interests, the needs of their employees, in this case, particularly, female employees."

The sponsor of the bill told the committee that it is intended to protect the First Amendment right to religious liberty.

"I believe we live in America," said Majority Whip Debbie Lesko (R-Glendale), who sponsored the bill. "We don’t live in the Soviet Union. So, government should not be telling the organizations or mom-and-pop employers to do something against their moral beliefs."

Lesko's bill resembles recent efforts on the federal level to repeal the Obama administration's contraception mandate, which requires most employers to cover contraception with no co-pay for their employees. Obama's rule has a broad religious exemption that allows faith-based organizations to opt out of covering birth control and shifts the burden of coverage over to the insurer in those cases. But many conservatives, including Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), are not satisfied with the exemption and believe all employers should be able to opt out of covering any kind of health service to which they morally object.

Lesko's bill is different from the controversial amendment Blunt proposed, in that it differentiates between birth control used for medical reasons and birth control used to prevent pregnancy. If the new law goes into effect, it will force female employees who can't afford to pay full price for birth control to share private, sometimes embarrassing medical information with her employer in order to get her prescription covered.

Lisa Love, a Glendale, Ariz., resident, testified before the committee about her polycystic ovarian syndrome in order to make a point about how private and personal the issue can be.

"I wouldn’t mind showing my employer my medical records," she said, "but there are ten women behind me that would be ashamed to do so."

The bill now moves to the state Senate for a full vote.

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