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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Birth control bill raises concerns

A bill that would allow employers in Arizona to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage to their female employees may be unconstitutional, legal experts say.

The bill, which could affect businesses that offer health insurance to employees, went under review last week in the state Senate because several legislators said the bill’s language was unclear.

This is not the first time the language in House Bill 2625 has changed, according to William Welsh, retired UA professor from the School of Government and Public Policy. The wording has become more “radical” since it was first proposed, he said.

“I think it’s bad legislation,” Welsh said. “It’s very probably not constitutional.”

State Rep. Debbie Lesko proposed HB 2625 in attempt to protect employers’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The bill states that employers who are religiously against contraceptives being used to prevent pregnancy can choose not to include contraceptives in the coverage they provide for their employees.

Women who use contraceptives for reasons other than pregnancy prevention would have to sign a statement and submit it to their employer and insurance company.

Although Lesko was unavailable for comment as of press time, she posted a newsletter on her website that says the proposed legislation does not authorize employers to ask or know about employees’ contraceptive use or terminate employees for using contraceptives.

The bill still may be considered unconstitutional because it violates employees’ First Amendments rights both to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, which includes the right to not practice a formal religion, Welsh said.

“Freedom of speech is not just the right to speak. It’s also the right not to have to speak,” he said. “It (the bill) is something that elevates the freedom an employer has over the freedom of an employee.”

The bill as it currently stands suggests that women are to disclose medical information to their employer if they request coverage for contraception, even if it’s for medical reasons such as acne, irregular menstruation or endometriosis, a condition that causes menstrual pain, abnormal bleeding and sometimes infertility.

Under previous revisions, the terms “providing or paying” were changed to “offering,” making it possible for any employer, even if they are not paying for the health insurance themselves, to exclude birth control coverage in the health insurance plan, Welsh said.

“Employers have no business knowing what’s being prescribed for what reason,” said Lee Ann Hamilton, assistant director of Health Promotion and Preventive Services at Campus Health Service. “The patient … medical provider relationship is a private one and a confidential one.”

Allison Vaillancourt, vice president of human resources, said the UA has been following the bill closely and does not expect it to affect UA employees if passed.

“Our health insurance benefits are provided through the state of Arizona and we don’t have any indications that the state is unwilling to provide birth control coverage,” Vaillancourt said.

The issues of the bill are “a lot more complex than people are suggesting,” Welsh said, and that the legislation is an ideological battle that discriminates against low-income families who may unable to pay for contraception out of pocket.

“These are also the families frankly that are more likely to be burdened by an unwanted child,” Welsh said. “Because they don’t have the resources to take care of a child.”

A previous version of the bill, according to Welsh, also stated that the “employer shall not discriminate against an employee who independently chooses to obtain coverage or prescription contraception from another source.” This statement has been deleted from the bill, creating fear in the belief that women can be discriminated against and as a result fired for using contraception to prevent pregnancy, regardless of whether the employer has covered the contraception or not, he said.

“As it’s written now, there is no prohibition against discrimination against an employee for obtaining contraception,” Welsh said. “Now I can’t believe that they’re not going to clean that up because it’s so obviously not constitutional to do that.”

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