I have a partly tongue-in-cheek list of US states that I am currently ‘boycotting’, or have no intention of visiting in the immediate future, either because of unfortunate things that have happened to me there, or most usually because of particularly stupid and offensive laws that have been either proposed or actually voted on and passed in their legislatures.
Arizona was already strongly competing to join this exclusive list (it is difficult to join and even harder to be removed from the list) with the signing by Gov. Jan Brewer of their famous anti-illegal-immigration law, allowing state police to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant (quite how you tell such a person from a natural US citizen by their appearance or behaviour is anyone’s guess, but I think we all know the criteria they have in mind):
But then came this gem that I was alerted to by a friend on Facebook – now, the Arizona State Senate Judiciary Committee (a pompous title for a pompous group of individuals) has endorsed a controversial bill that will, if passed, allow Arizona employees to exclude contraception coverage from the healthcare plans that they offer to their employees, if their religious beliefs or moral convictions encourage them to do so. Furthermore, the bill would also allow employers to demand proof of a medical prescription (for non birth-control related reasons) if an employee wishes to claim for contraceptive pills on their health insurance policy.
Let me count the ways that this is an offensive and idiotic proposal.
The author of the bill – one Debbie Lesko, Republican of course – says that:
“So, government should not be telling the organizations or mom and pop employers to do something against their moral beliefs.”
Okay, well guess what. Maybe I’ll set up shop in Arizona and start a small business. But I am from a small and little-known religion that doesn’t believe in mammograms or cervical cancer screening. I don’t know why, my particular interpretation of my hypothetical holy book just tells me that to test for these diseases to allow early intervention would be an affront to God. So none of my female employees will get to benefit from these forms of healthcare as part of the insurance plan that I provide them. Oh, and my new religion also thinks that heart disease and erectile dysfunction are punishments from God that should be meekly accepted rather than treated, so no Viagra or anti-cholesterol medication for the gents. If you need Viagra to treat some other ailment not connected with erectile dysfunction we can maybe talk about coming to an agreement, but I’ll need a signed letter from your doctor explaining your precise medical history and needs.
Can you imagine the uproar?
Let us be quite clear. This is not about freedom of religion. Many states have been living under an expressed requirement that employers include birth control coverage in their healthcare plans for many years with nary a whisper of complaint until a Democrat named Barack Obama occupied the oval office. This is about slowly trying to establish a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in America, one in which even the overwhelming majority of Christians, myself included, would not wish to live in were it fully implemented. Republicans – who once criticised Obama because of the type of Christian church that he attended and the pastor who preached there – have decided that it would now be more politically fruitful to fan the embers of suspicion that he is in fact a muslim, and that he is launching an all-out assault on “Judeo-Christian” principles.
And while we’re on the topic, can someone please initiate a sensible conversation about moving away from the current employer-based health insurance system in America? Aside from the damage it does to the economy in terms of issues such as impeding mobility of labour (especially important during the current fragile recovery with unemployment so high), if individuals purchased their own health insurance rather than relying on the employer to do it for them, we could sidestep this whole argument about coercing employers to act against their moral beliefs. If Debbie Lesko ever chose to leave her political career and return to the private sector, she wouldn’t have to stay up all night worrying about what naughty things her employees might be doing with the healthcare coverage that she paid for, because the employees would be paying the premiums and taking their chances that they won’t be struck down by lightning for daring to use a condom, or the pill. And I think everyone would sleep better at night as a result.
Arizona, you have been teetering on the brink for a long time now. But congratulations, you have officially made the list.