A divided state House voted Thursday to expand the list of employers who can refuse to include contraceptive coverage in their health care plans for workers.
The 36-21 vote came after Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, agreed to narrow the scope of her legislation. She said that will protect organizations with a true religious mission which have moral objections to birth control, without letting everyone opt out.
But foes of HB 2625 still found what they said are flaws in the plan. The measure still needs Senate approval before going to the governor.
A 2002 law says company health plans that include prescriptions cannot exclude birth control.
Legislators built in an exemption for churches and certain church-run charities that hire and serve mainly those of their own faith.
Lesko argued that still subjected others with religious objections to having to fund them. So she proposed allowing any employer to opt out.
After that was objected, she agreed to scale the plan back to extend the right of refusal to “religious affiliated employers.” Those are defined as any company whose articles of incorporation say it is a religiously motivated organization whose beliefs are central to its operating principles.
Rep. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said that would appear to provide relief to employers like St. Vincent de Paul. But she said that’s still too broad.
“They’re public organizations,” Hobbs said. “They receive public funding. And they employ many people of all different faiths and backgrounds.”
She argued that it would be wrong to let these organizations deny birth control coverage to their workers.
But Rep. Terri Proud said nothing in the legislation precludes women from obtaining contraceptives. The question, she said, is who pays.
“No one, and I mean no one, should be forced to provide or pay for something that violates their sincere held beliefs,” she said. “As a woman, I may have a legal access to birth control or abortion. But it does not mean that I have the right to force someone else to pay for it.”
Hobbs, however, said there’s another problem.
Current law contains a specific provision which says employers who do not have to fund birth control cannot discriminate against a worker who, using her own money, obtains contraceptives from another source. That language, however, was stripped from the new version of the law, something she said leaves women subject to being fired for their personal choices.
Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, said that’s not true. He said the legislation spells out that workers remain protected by any existing state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
But Hobbs responded that there is nothing in those statutes, which govern issues of gender, race and religion, which extends similar protections to women based on using birth control.
Rep. David Smith, R-Carefree, rejected contentions that Arizona was being unfair to women. He said there are 22 states which have no mandate at all for any employer to provide contraceptive coverage to workers.
Some concerns have also been expressed by opponents of the measure that the new language would allow any company at all to amend its articles of incorporation and declare itself to be a “religiously motivated organization.”