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Will Arizona Women Have to Petition Their Bosses for Birth Control?

March 15, 2012, 8:00 am | Posted by Nick Sementelli

Arizona FlagLast month, we covered the testimony of Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University Law student who testified in favor of the HHS regulation requiring all insurance plans to include birth control and other preventive services without co-pay. In particular, she highlighted the consequences of letting employers deny women these services, relaying the story of a friend who lost her ovary after she could no longer afford to pay out of pocket for contraceptive pills to treat her ovarian cysts.

Since Fluke’s testimony and the subsequent backlash from the far Right, the media has been saturated with coverage of the debate between religious liberty and reproductive freedom. However, as Nicole Neroulias’ recent Huffington Post piece rightly points out, framing the story in these terms misses this part of Fluke’s actual testimony.

“[A]s Fluke tried to explain in her opening statement, both frames miss the big picture: Women take the pill to address myriad health issues, from ovarian cancer, menstrual problems, hormone imbalances and fertility treatments to cystic acne, et al. This is the angle I’ve been waiting in vain for religious and mainstream journalists to acknowledge and investigate.

And logically, even when clergy approve of contraceptives for unrelated medical reasons, how would they have their institutions apply these directives? Should women who work at Catholic hospitals and schools get a doctor’s note for their bosses before requesting insurance reimbursement for the birth control pill? Would ovarian cysts and infertility make the cut, but acne and bad cramps be more along the lines of God’s will?”

This logistical problem is currently playing out in Arizona, where proposed Blunt Amendment-style legislation that would allow employers with moral objections to opt out of contraceptive coverage includes an exemption for employees who need it for health reasons, but only if they get permission from their employer.

I presume this measure is meant to prevent employees from lying about health problems to exploit this as a “loophole” to gain coverage for contraception. The law even makes it easier for employers to fire women for doing so.

But what about the 44% of women who use contraception for both health and birth control reasons? Do they have to convince their boss they’ve renounced the latter? Will people’s job security hinge on their bosses’ interpretations of their sincerity?

Further, does this principle apply to other drugs that can be used in multiple ways as well? Do single men with Viagra prescriptions need to prove they suffer from pulmonary arterial hypertension? Do employees need to convince their boss they aren’t abusing their painkiller prescriptions for recreational purposes? Is it practical to try to enforce legal lines that are based on the intention a person has when he or she uses a drug?

Turning bosses into moral and medical authorities over their employees seems to go far beyond bill proponents’ ostensible goal of limiting an employer’s involvement in practices they disagree with and clearly into the realm of directly controlling the behavior of their workers.

Tara Culp-Ressler contributed to this post.

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