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Arizona wades into contraception controversy

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 4:39 PM EDT, Thu March 15, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Arizona Senate is considering a bill that could deny contraception coverage
  • Critics say such a law would be crossing the line
  • Supporters say it protects the religious freedom of employers
  • Arizona's debate comes on the heels of a federal controversy over the same issue

(CNN) -- Women in Arizona may be forced to share certain private medical conditions with their employers if they want their contraception to be covered by health insurance, a bill proposes.

The Arizona Senate is considering a bill that would give all businesses the option to exclude contraceptives from health insurance coverage. The only exception is if a woman can prove she is taking the contraceptives for other medical reasons.

Supporters say such a law would protect the religious beliefs of employers, while critics assert the tradeoff would be an affront to the liberties of employees.

The Arizona debate comes on the heels of a federal controversy over the same issue.

An Obama administration policy originally required religiously affiliated institutions -- including hospitals and universities -- to offer contraception coverage.

After heavy resistance from Republican lawmakers and religious institutions, the rule was amended to exempt employers from paying for contraceptives and will now instead require insurance companies to offer the coverage at no cost.

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The Arizona legislation arises as a response to that.

The legislation, House Bill 2625 (PDF), was passed by the state House this month and now sits before the Senate.

"I personally don't have a moral objection to contraceptives, but I respect the people that do," state Rep. Debbie Lesko, one of the Republican sponsors of the bill, told CNN affiliate KTVK-TV in Phoenix.

"House Bill 2625 allows Arizona employers to opt out of the contraceptive mandate if they have a religious or moral objection," she told KTVK.

Denying women coverage for contraceptives would restrict women's access to basic health care, said the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

"As strongly as the ACLU has protected people's rights to their religious beliefs, express those beliefs and practice those beliefs, we feel the bill goes beyond guaranteeing protections for religious liberties and into allowing an employer to prioritize his religious beliefs over the beliefs, needs, interests of his employees, particularly his female employees," Anjali Abraham, public policy director for the ACLU of Arizona, told KTVK.

Arizona already has a law on the books that allows religious employers to deny such coverage, but the current bill would modify the law to allow any business to make the same exclusion.

"We live in America and government shouldn't force mom-and-pop employers to do something against their moral beliefs," Lesko told the CNN affiliate.

The bill has some exceptions that its supporters said should allay critics' fears.

For instance, coverage for contraception cannot be denied if it is prescribed for medical reasons other than pregnancy prevention.

But the ACLU and others said that this exception amounts to an invasion of privacy that will force women to share sensitive medical information with their employers.

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