March 2, 2012 — The Arizona House on Thursday approved a bill (HB 2625) that would allow any employer to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage for religious reasons, the Arizona Republic reports (Beard Rau, Arizona Republic, 3/1). The House voted 39-18 in favor of the bill, which would expand a religious exemption in a state law that requires contraceptive coverage in employer health plans (Davenport, AP/San Antonio Express-News, 3/1).
Arizona is among more than two dozen states that require employers to provide contraceptive coverage. Most of the states, including Arizona, already allow exemptions for religious institutions, while two states -- Illinois and Missouri -- also allow secular employers to deny the coverage for religious reasons (Arizona Republic, 3/1). In response to the national debate over new federal contraceptive coverage rules, many conservative state lawmakers are pushing for broader religious exemptions at the state level (AP/San Antonio Express-News, 3/1).
Planned Parenthood lobbyist Michelle Steinberg pointed out that "[b]irth control is a [preventive] health care benefit," adding, "It's fundamental to improving the health of women and the health of families." Steinberg said that the bill would not require employers to explain their religious objection or give workers advance notice that they do not provide contraceptive coverage. "It's one thing to have an exemption for religious employers like a church," Steinberg added, continuing, "But to allow any employer to opt out based on their religious belief system is discriminating against their employees."
If enacted, the legislation might set up a legal fight with the federal government, the Republic reports. Rep. Debbie Lesko (R), who sponsored the bill, said she would welcome a legal challenge. "I think the issue is so important that it needs to go forward and ultimately be decided in the Supreme Court," Lesko said (Arizona Republic, 3/1).