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Wed, June 26

Employer contraceptive bill sent back to House for second look

PHOENIX -- State senators voted Thursday to resurrect a controversial measure over contraceptive funding, but only after its chief proponent promised to change it.

As approved, HB 2625 would allow any employer citing a religious objection to refuse to include birth control in insurance coverage for workers. In fact, a majority of senators are on the record in opposition.

But Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, who voted with the majority last week to kill the bill, agreed Thursday to support it to send it back to the House. Crandall said, though, his vote was conditional on Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, agreeing to scale the measure back significantly.

Arizona law does not require employers to provide contraceptive coverage to workers. But it does say that if a company does have insurance which includes prescriptions, it cannot exclude birth control.

There is an exception for churches and church-run charities and services, but only if they mainly hire and serve those of their own faith. Lesko sought to allow any employer to opt out based on religious conviction.

When that faltered, Lesko agreed to a deal: She would have the measure amended to expand the exemption only to church-run affiliates like hospitals and charities like St. Vincent de Paul who provide services regardless of the religion of the recipients. While that was enough to sway Crandall and a few others, it left some lawmakers dissatisfied.

Sen. Linda Lopez said these kinds of operations employ people of all religious beliefs.

"What does that do to them and their ability to provide for contraception for their families?' she asked.

"The whole goal of the people who support this kind of legislation has not really been just to get rid of abortion for women,' she said, noting that the groups that back this bill have been the same ones pushing for new restrictions on the right to terminate a pregnancy. "But it's also to go back to the very b basics of refusing to allow women to have any kind of control over their reproduction.'

And Sen. Olivia Cajero-Bedford, D-Tucson, lashed out at the Catholic Church. Ron Johnson, who represents the state's three Catholic bishops, has been active in pushing this measure.

"These religious organizations should stick to working with their members only and leave the rest of Arizona women alone,' she said. "I would suggest they change course and work on protecting young boys from clergy abuse.'

But Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, said one of the major backers is the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy. And he said that organization represents the views of not only Catholics like himself but also evangelicals and Mormons, if not a majority of all Arizonans.

He also rejected the argument by some foes of the measure that this bill and similar ones are part of some "war on women.'

"They're trying to create a smokescreen to hide the abysmal results of the Obama administration's economic policies for the past three-plus years,' he said.

And Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said it's not like Arizona was outlawing contraceptives.

"Last time I checked, you can still go buy this stuff,' he said.

The next step for the legislation is a conference committee where Lesko has vowed to scale the measure back to religious affiliates. It then would have to return to both the House and the Senate for final approval.

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