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Arizona state Senate defeats bill on contraception

Paul Davenport, Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Arizona Senate narrowly rejected a bill to allow more employers to drop health insurance coverage for birth control amid concerns that the proposal jeopardized women's care and privacy.

Supporters had changed the bill ahead of the vote Wednesday in an attempt to provide assurances that a woman wouldn't have to explain to her employer why she wants contraceptives.

The amended provisions were a response to criticism that the proposal could force women to divulge private health matters to employers, an interpretation that supporters of the bill disputed.

Under the bill, employers could cite religious and moral objections and be allowed to drop coverage for birth control.

Arizona now allows only religious nonprofits to opt out of the state law requiring coverage of contraceptive care.

The vote Wednesday was a 17-13. Nine Democrats and eight Republicans voted against the bill — though one Republican did that so she can ask for another vote on the bill sometime in the future — while Republicans provided all 13 votes in favor.

"I'm all for religious freedom. I'm for all kinds of freedom," but not at the expense of others, said Sen. Jerry Lewis, a Mesa Republican who voted against the bill.

The Republican-sponsored bill is supported by social conservatives and Roman Catholic bishops who say it protects the religious freedom of all employers by allowing them to use the opt-out privilege now extended only to religious entities.

Sen. Nancy Barto, a supporter who changed her vote to no to allow her to ask for another vote, said the bill is needed to provide "a safe haven" to employers.

"Our religious freedoms are under serious attacks and health care is just the latest venue for that attack," said Barto, R-Scottsdale.

Under the bill, employers' health plans still would have to cover contraception for purposes other than birth control, and some of the debate about the bill centered on how that would work.

The bill would allow a health plan of an employer opting out of contraception for birth control to require that workers submit evidence that contraception is for other purposes.

Critics said that could force female workers to submit private health information to their employers and open the door to discrimination based on contraception use.

Supporters denied that and said the information would go only to health plans or insurers, not to employers.

However, they changed multiple parts of the bill to specify that employers wouldn't be authorized to receive the information and that federal health privacy protections must be honored.

Democratic legislators participating in a small Planned Parenthood rally at the Capitol said the contraception bill is part of a Republican "war on women."

"I don't care what they believe — just don't tell me and my friends and my family to believe the same thing," said Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson.

The Republican-led Legislature also is considering anti-abortion legislation as well as a bill to prohibit funding for Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services.