Governor Jan Brewer signed new restrictions on abortions Thursday even as lawmakers moved to expand laws exempting who has to fund contraceptives to prevent pregnancy.
The new law makes it a crime to terminate a pregnancy at or after 20 weeks. The governor, a foe of most legalized abortion, said she signed the measure because procedures after that are more risky to the mother. And proponents said there also is evidence -- disputed by others -- a fetus at that point can feel pain. Meanwhile the Senate voted to advance legislation allowing some employers with religious objections to refuse to include contraceptive coverage in the insurance they provide workers. The move came after Rep. Debbie Lesko agreed to scale back her proposal, HB 2625, from covering all employers, to just church affiliates like charities and hospitals. Churches themselves are already exempt. But Senator Linda Lopez said that is still unfair.
"If it applies to hospitals and other organizations that are religious affiliates, who employ women and men who are not members of that religious belief, then what does that do to them and their ability to provide for contraception for their families," said Lopez.
But Senator Steve Smith said those who are objecting to allowing church affiliates to opt out of paying for something they find morally objectionable are missing a crucial point.
"Last time I checked, you can still go buy this stuff," said Smith. "We didn't ban this from the shelves. We didn't say contraceptives are illegal in the state of Arizona. We just said if you're a religious employer, last time I checked, they still have a right, too. They still have rights."
There was a wide disagreement over the whole question where religion fits in to setting state policy on insurance coverage. Olivia Cajero Bedford took her own slap at some religious groups which have been lobbying to allow all employers to opt out of contraceptive coverage.
"These religious organizations should stick to working with their members only and leave the rest of Arizona women alone," said Bedford. "What do these organizations want: for a woman to be pregnant from puberty to midlife? I would suggest they change course and work on protecting young boys from clergy abuse."
But Senator Nancy Barto said all the talk by foes of the measure about the rights of women is off the mark.
"There is nothing in the constitution that says that a third party has to pay for her ability to access contraception. Is there?" she asked. "Can you show me that? But what 2625 does do, it ensures that the constitutional rights of employers to having to pay for contraceptives is respected. Arizona law doesn't do that right now."
And Sen. Al Melvin said he sees something political in the talk by those who want employers to pay for contraceptives, whether in Arizona or at the national level.
"They're trying to create a smokescreen to hide the abysmal results of the Obama administration's economic policies for the last 3-plus years," Melvin said. "They're trying to create these canards and smokescreens that will not work."
Thursday's Senate vote is designed to send the measure to a conference committee where Lesko has promised it will be put in a form acceptable to a majority of lawmakers.