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WAR ON WOMEN, ARIZONA STYLE

Republican state lawmakers and their pals on the religious right aren't content with just getting Gov. Jan Brewer to sign a new law that declares women are pregnant weeks before conception.

Now the GOP legislators are revving up their push to make sure women end up with unwanted pregnancies if they're slutty enough to have sex.

House Bill 2625 passed the House of Representatives last Thursday, April 19, and was under consideration by the state Senate as of press time.

The bill, which would allow employers with a religious objection to birth control to refuse to provide health-care coverage for contraceptives, had stalled earlier in the session, but got back into gear after it was slightly amended to limit the companies who could opt out of mandated coverage to "religiously affiliated employers."

Michelle Steinberg, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, says there's no definition of a "religiously affiliated employer," which means the language is "very broad." For example, a company that gives a percentage of its profits to a church could consider itself "religiously affiliated."

"It opens the door for any organization to basically say they're a religiously affiliated organization," Steinberg says. "I think it's very subjective."

Because women who use birth control evidently don't deserve to have the dignity of work, HB 2625 also eliminates language in existing state law that prohibits employers from firing women for using contraception, even if they pay for the birth control themselves. And because women don't need to trouble their little heads with details, it doesn't require employers to disclose that they don't offer contraceptive coverage to new hires.

Steinberg sees this as discrimination, but state lawmakers say they're just looking out for an employer's right to feel good about their religious convictions.

The downside, as Steinberg points out, is that "the people who are making it as difficult as possible to access abortion services—who want to stop abortions, period—are the same people who want to restrict access to family planning. If you reduce access to family planning, you're going to have more abortions. And more STDs, for that matter."

Planned Parenthood officials also have other legislation to worry about: HB 2800 would ban the use of federal funds that pass through the state—such as Medicaid funding for low-income Arizonans—to go to organizations that provide abortion services.

That would mean that Planned Parenthood would no longer be able to provide low-cost cancer screenings, pap smears, STD treatment, contraceptive options and other health-care services to low-income women who are on the state's AHCCCS program.

"We are an AHCCCS provider," Steinberg says. "What this bill attempts to do is keep Planned Parenthood from seeing those patients. The impact will be felt hardest by women who choose Planned Parenthood for their care. They will not be able to choose their health-care provider."

Cynde Cerf, the director of communications for Planned Parenthood Arizona, says the organization believes that the federal government would not allow Arizona to receive any Medicare dollars if it tries to block Planned Parenthood from receiving those funds. But as they've made clear plenty of times in recent years, lawmakers aren't going to let the federal government push them around.

HB 2800 passed the Senate on Tuesday, April 24, and the next step is Brewer's desk.

Earlier this month, lawmakers passed HB 2627, a law to ensure that Planned Parenthood doesn't qualify as an eligible nonprofit under a state law that allows taxpayers to receive up to $200 in tax credits if they give money to organizations that help the working poor.

The Legislature passed similar legislation last year, but a federal court blocked its implementation because the 2011 law said that no organization that even referred women to abortion providers could qualify as an eligible nonprofit. Federal Judge Roslyn Silver ruled that the provision restricts the free speech of workers at domestic-violence shelters and other nonprofits.

Lawmakers adjusted the bill to strip out the language about referring women to abortion providers in this year's version, and Brewer signed the bill on Tuesday, April 17.


LEGAL STANDARDS

The Arizona Supreme Court finally explained why it shot down Gov. Jan Brewer's effort to remove the chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission last November.

As you may recall, Tea Party conservatives were raising a fuss over the mapping of Arizona's new political boundaries. In an effort to stop the IRC, Brewer tried to kick independent chair Colleen Mathis off the five-member committee.

Brewer got the necessary two-thirds approval of the Senate by grabbing the vote of every Republican, but her power grab fell short when the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, said she had exceeded her authority.

Last Friday, April 20, the justices revealed their reasoning: Brewer didn't meet any kind of legal standard.

Brewer had argued that the court had no oversight in the matter. Her attorney, Lisa Hauser, told the justices that if Brewer had wanted to remove Mathis from the commission for wearing a purple dress, that would have been acceptable.

The justices determined that Brewer's allegations against Mathis didn't hold up to any kind of scrutiny outside of the kangaroo court of the Arizona Legislature.

Brewer had claimed that Mathis had broken open-meeting laws, but the justices said that didn't happen. And Brewer said the maps themselves were unconstitutional, but the justices pointed out that the maps hadn't even been completed, so they couldn't be unconstitutional.

The new political maps were completed under Mathis' restored leadership, and the U.S. Justice Department has approved the congressional map—a feat that the first IRC, established in 2001, failed to accomplish with its first submission.

The IRC was still awaiting word on the legislative map as of our press deadline. The Justice Department has until the end of the month to approve it.


MEET YOUR NEW LAWMAKER

The Pima County Board of Supervisors on Monday appointed Nicholas Fontana, a Tucson attorney who has worked with Tucson and Southern Arizona's Native American Tribes, to fill the House of Representatives seat left empty by Daniel Patterson.

Patterson, who was elected to Tucson's southside Legislative District 29 as a Democrat in 2008 and 2010, left the party after Democratic leaders started calling for him to resign amid allegations of wide-ranging ethics violations.

When he quit the House to avoid being thrown out, Patterson was still registered "no party preference"—commonly referred to as independent—and Secretary of State Ken Bennett declared the seat would need to be filled by an independent.

Fontana is a Tucson native, the sole partner at his own law office and judge pro tem for the Tohono O'odham Tribal Court. He has worked as the chief public defender for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, as a public defender for the city of Tucson and a public defender for Pima County.

"Although the leadership is anxious to adjourn the 50th Legislature, a great deal of important work remains to be done," he said in his application letter. "The Legislature has not adopted a budget and is still considering issues such as tax cuts for businesses, insurance coverage for contraceptives, and Governor Brewer's proposal for changes to the civil-service system. The person selected to serve the citizens of Legislative District 29 in (the) Legislature will have to hit the ground running."

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