Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed into law a bill that allows employers who designate themselves “religiously affiliated” to exclude contraception coverage in any employee health benefits plan. The bill had appeared dead in committee, but was revived and passed based on what proponents describe as “narrower” language but that has, essentially the same impact once implemented.
The result is that employers will now have the ability to interrogate employees on whether or not they use prescription birth control and if so, why.
“In its final form, this bill is about nothing more than preserving religious freedom to which were 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 bill provides no protection to women who may be fired as a result of disclosing to their employer that they take prescription birth control pills.
Brewer’s decision to sign the bill was immediately praised by the Arizona Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s five bishops. “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.
The measure does require all companies to pay for contraceptive drugs if they are being used for a 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.
The move once again places the state in direct conflict with the federal government and the contraception mandate from Health and Human Services which currently faces several legal challenges. Should the mandate be upheld then the Arizona law will fail. If the federal mandate fails, then Brewer’s bill will stand and women in Arizona will have benefits discrimination as the law of the state with no available means to stop employers from abusing the exception.
Photo from Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via flickr.