May 14, 2012 — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) on Friday signed into law a bill (HB 2625) that allows more religiously affiliated employers to claim an exemption from a state law that requires employee health plans to include contraceptive coverage, the Arizona Republic reports (Beard Rau, Arizona Republic, 5/11).
An earlier version of the bill would have allowed any employer to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage for moral or religious reasons. However, the bill was amended last month so it would only apply to "religiously affiliated employers," defined as entities that employ or serve individuals who share a single religious belief, as well as religious institutions whose incorporation papers "clearly state that it is a religiously motivated organization and whose religious beliefs are central to the organization's operating principles."
The change means that religiously affiliated charities and hospitals could claim the exemption, which currently only applies to religious entities such as churches (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/27).
In a statement, Brewer said she was satisfied with the changes. "In its final form, this bill is about nothing more than preserving religious freedom to which [we're] all constitutionally entitled," she said, adding, "Mandating that a religious institution provide a service in direct contradiction with its faith would represent an obvious encroachment upon the First Amendment."
According to Ron Johnson, a representative for the Arizona Catholic Conference, the law would not preempt the federal contraceptive coverage rules. The law "will be very helpful in protecting religious liberty for religious affiliated employers who have an objection to abortion inducing drugs and contraceptives," he said.
Opponents of the law voiced concern that employers might try to qualify for the religious exemption to get out of having to provide contraceptive coverage.
Second Bill Adds Protections for Workers Who Deny Services for Religious Reasons
Also on Friday, Brewer signed a bill designed to allow workers who are licensed by the state to refuse to provide health care services based on religious objections.
Current Arizona law includes similar protections for pharmacists and physicians who refuse to provide contraceptives, but the new law applies to all state-licensed professionals (Fischer, Arizona Daily Sun, 3/12).