.- Governor Jan Brewer drew praise for signing a measure into law that allows employers in Arizona to opt out of contraception and abortifacient coverage.
“We're absolutely thrilled that Gov. Brewer signed this important religious liberty legislation after many years of battling over this issue in Arizona and now across the country,” Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, told CNA.
Although the bill will not trump federal law if the controversial Health and Human Services mandate is put into practice, Johnson said he hopes the Arizona measure will “be an example for the rest of the country.”
Johnson explained in a May 10 interview that the bill provides a “better position” for “Arizonians who are interested in suing the Obama administration over the HHS mandate,” now that their religious freedom is protected by state law.
The Obama administration's contraception mandate, announced on Jan. 20, will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs even if doing so violates religious beliefs.
Catholic bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have condemned the mandate, warning that it threatens religious freedom and could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies to shut down.
The bishops have also criticized the rule's narrow religious exemption which allows institutions to opt out only if they are non-profit organizations that mainly employ and serve people of the same faith.
Signed into law May 11, Arizona's House Bill 2625 expands the definition of “religiously affiliated” employers to any organization whose articles of incorporation state a religious motivation and whose religious beliefs play a significant role in its operations.
“In its final form, this bill is about nothing more,” Gov. Brewer said in a statement, “than preserving the religious freedom to which we are all Constitutionally-entitled.”
Although the Arizona Catholic Conference has been in favor of the bill since then-Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed it in 2002, Representative Debbie Lesko (R-Glendale) and Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) helped carry it through the Arizona House and Senate in its most recent form.
Johnson called the new law an “extremely important piece of legislation” not only for Catholics, but for all Americans who value religious freedom.
“It's also a very good time to unite with people of other faiths on this bedrock issue,” Johnson said, “If we don't do it now, we're going to to see much more serious erosion.”
This law comes after many private companies have filed lawsuits against the Obama administration for the federal mandate on the grounds of First Amendment violation.
The Arizona Catholic Conference called the law “very helpful” in a May 10 press release, for any religiously-affiliated employers “who have an objection to abortion inducing drugs and contraceptives.”
Arizona is now among the 20 states that allow employers to opt-out of contraception and abortifacient coverage in their healthcare plans due to religious beliefs.