PHOENIX — Arizona businesses that designate themselves to be a “religiously affiliated employer” will no longer have to include contraceptives in the insurance coverage they provide for their workers.
Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation pushed by Rep. Debbie Lesko of Glendale, R-District 9, to broaden an exemption to a 2002 law which spells out that businesses which provide prescription drugs as part of their health insurance plans cannot exclude birth control pills. The governor said she was satisfied with the last-minute compromise worked out by lawmakers.
“In its final form, this bill is about nothing more than preserving religious freedom to which we’re all constitutionally entitled,” Brewer said in a prepared statement. “Mandating that a religious institution provide a service in direct contradiction with its faith would represent an obvious encroachment upon the First Amendment.”The 2002 mandate to include contraceptive coverage in health care plans for employees always has had an exception for churches. Similarly, church-run charities that mainly serve people of the same faith were also exempt.
Initially, Lesko supported a bill to grant that same right of refusal to any employer at all who claims a religious belief or moral objection to contraceptives. But that proved unacceptable to the Senate, with even the governor expressing concern with some provisions.
The final version narrows that an entity whose articles of incorporation “clearly state that it is a religiously motivated organization and whose religious beliefs are central to the organization’s operating principles.”
Lesko said that is aimed at expanding the exemption to organizations like St. Vincent de Paul, which provides services to all, regardless of faith. But some opponents of the measure said they feared that other companies may simply declare themselves to fit that definition to escape the contraceptive mandate.
She acknowledged that language is not airtight.
“I don’t know if you could stop anyone from lying,” Lesko said. But she said she doubted that many businesses that do not really have a religious basis would go through the bother of reincorporating solely to save what might be a small amount of money on their health insurance premiums for workers.
Brewer press aide Matthew Benson said that’s also the assessment of his boss.
“The governor believes this is a narrowly crafted law that, in all likelihood, will only apply to a handful of employers in the state,” he said.
The measure does require all companies to pay for contraceptive drugs if they are being used for some reason other than birth control. But that requires a woman to first pay for the prescription and then provide proof of the medical reason to the employer’s insurance company.
Women also remain free to purchase birth control on their own. But critics of the bill pointed out that the law contains no specific legal protections for a worker who is fired for making that personal choice.
Brewer’s decision to sign the bill was immediately praised by the Arizona Catholic Conference which represents the state’s bishops and which had lobbied for the law.
“HB 2625 will be very helpful in protecting religious liberty for religious affiliated employers who have an objection to abortion inducing drugs and contraceptives,” the statement reads.