Gov. Brewer signs religious liberty bill; HB 2625 becomes law

Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation May 11 that allows religiously affiliated employers to opt out of coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients. The issue has been a sticking point in the national debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.”

Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, the legislative arm that represents the Dioceses of Phoenix, Tucson and Gallup, N.M. as well as the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix, said HB 2625 is designed to protect religious liberty in Arizona.

“It’s a good model for the rest of the country and other states but it will also provide Arizonans a better opportunity to sue the Obama administration and the HHS contraceptive mandate in particular,” Johnson said. “It gives them better standing to do so and if and when we prevail on this, we’ll be much better protected in Arizona for having this become law.”

The bishops of the ACC issued a statement expressing their thanks for the governor’s signature on the legislation.

“HB 2625 will be very helpful in protecting religious liberty for religiously affiliated employers who have an objection to abortion inducing drugs and contraceptives,” the bishops’ statement read. “This new law will not preempt the HHS contraceptive mandate, if it is upheld. However, if it is not, religious freedom in Arizona will be better protected.”

The ACC bishops also thanked the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Debbie Lesko and Sen. Nancy Barto for shepherding the bill through the legislature.

Johnson said the new law would address Arizona’s contraceptive mandate passed in 2002, something many in the state weren’t aware even existed in Arizona — at least until now.

“[The contraceptive mandate] is an extremely offensive piece of law and now the federal government is trying to mandate it across the country in other ways,” Johnson said. “It’s important to remove it. Forcing people to provide contraceptives and abortifacients against their faith is horrible.”

Arizona’s contraceptive mandate, Johnson said, required employers to pay for any FDA-approved contraceptives—some of which caused early abortions. “There were only vary narrow exemptions for religious beliefs,” Johnson said.

For years the ACC has worked to undo the damage done by the contraceptive mandate. Legislation similar to HB 2625 that address these concerns was vetoed by then-Governor Janet Napolitano.

“We’ve been at this a long time,” Johnson said. “The end of the battle makes us very happy that it’s been signed.”

The new law doesn’t completely remove Arizona’s contraceptive mandate, but it does broaden the exemptions for religiously affiliated employers.

Under the new law, a business such as Christian book store or a non- profit such as St. Vincent de Paul that is religiously affiliated under its articles of incorporation and has objections to contraception, would be exempt from having to provide that coverage to employees.