Is it a war against women, or a true effort to protect religious freedom when it comes to health insurance covering contraception? The debate rages on as the Arizona Senate voted to approve House Bill 2625 last week.
The measure passed 17-13 on April 12, with the Senate approving HB 2625, which would allow employers to deny women birth control under a company’s provided healthcare benefits.
In a lengthy discussion on the Senate floor, the measure passed after being rejected less than a month ago. Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Scottsdale, brought the bill back for a revote. She got four Republicans to change their votes from no to yes by promising amendments after approval.
The amendment, which was not written at the time of the bill’s passage is supposed to narrow the scope of the exemption to only include religious organizations, according to Barto.
Barto said Arizona law must respect religious freedom, and that she is upset that people think the law is aimed at discriminating against women.
“I’m a woman, the sponsor of this bill is a woman,” she said. “To think that we would want to discriminate our own rights, I don’t think so. The bottom line about 2625 is strictly this; it doesn’t restrict the rights of a woman to access contraception. What 2625 does do is ensures that the constitutional right for employers not to have to pay for contraception is respected.”
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said he can’t see how a bill can be passed with amendments that aren’t even on record yet.
“We’re talking about an amendment we haven’t even seen yet,” he said. “This bill right now does apply to all employers. It does apply to all.”
Besides not seeing the amendment, Democrats oppose the law, saying it violates a woman’s right to privacy, and makes a woman’s right to choice of birth control up to their employers.
One of the most outspoken about the bill is Senate Minority Whip Paula Aboud, D-Tucson. In speaking against the bill, Aboud said a sleeping giant has been woken up, and that giant is women.
“I am appalled by this bill,” she said. “It is putting a mark on a woman’s right to have control of their bodies. Women are tired of legislatures and legislators and the Center for Arizona Policy putting their so-called religious beliefs on the backs of women. They aren’t putting it on the backs of men. They want to control women’s bodies. So, today is the first day I am announcing that I am going statewide to rally women to vote to take this legislature back. To get you to pay attention to the rights of women.”
The Center for Arizona Policy is a non-profit research and education organization committed to promoting and defending the foundational values of life, marriage and family and religious liberty. The center is an advocate of not only HB 2625, but also of various anti-abortion laws currently being pushed through the legislature.
Sen. Al Melvin, R-Oro Valley, voted in favor of the controversial bill. Melvin criticized those putting down the Center for Arizona Policy, which is the organization promoting the bill.
Melvin, a Catholic, said, “Every time I hear the mention of the Center for Arizona Policy, I would like to remind members that the organization truly represents the views of the majority of this state.”
In voting yes, Melvin said opponents of the bill are just trying to put a smokescreen to the real problems, which centers around President Barack Obama’s inability to manage the economy.
Sen. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said HB 2625 is unneeded because there is already a law on the books that protects religious freedoms.
“This bill will create a number of unintended consequences, particularly unwanted pregnancy, then a need for more abortions.”
With the bill passing the second time around, a committee agreed on the proposed amendment late Monday. The House and Senate will not revote on the measure.