The Arizona state Senate has rejected a controversial bill that would have allowed employers to refuse to offer birth control coverage if it conflicted with their moral or religious beliefs. The proposal had become entangled in a rancorous national debate over women’s healthcare and religious freedom.
Under the bill, employers still would have been required to cover birth control used for purposes other than contraception, such as treating acne. Opponents said that would have required women who wanted birth control to tell their employers why, thereby violating their privacy, the Associated Press reported.
Supporters of the bill maintained that women only would have to share such information with their insurers, but retooled the proposal before Wednesday's vote. New language specified that employers would not have access to women’s “protected health information,” the Arizona Republic said.
The measure was defeated 17 to 13, but one of the eight Republicans who voted against it said she planned to revive it at a later date. “Our religious freedoms are under serious attacks and healthcare is just the latest venue for that attack,” said state Sen. Nancy Barto, according to the AP.
The bill comes after a string of controversies related to women’s healthcare, sparked by a new federal rule requiring most employers to offer contraceptive coverage to their female employees without co-pays as part of the healthcare overhaul. When Catholic groups in particular cast the requirement as an attack on religious freedom, the Obama administration proposed shifting the cost of coverage to insurance companies.
The rhetorical war reached its nadir earlier this month, when conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh referred to law student Sandra Fluke, who’d publicly advocated for birth control coverage, as a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Limbaugh later said he “chose the wrong words.”
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