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Democratic lawmakers: GOP bills attack women’s rights, pander to conservatives

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PHOENIX – Dozens of women joined Democratic legislators Wednesday to denounce GOP bills on birth control and abortion that they say pander to ultraconservatives during an election year.

“There have been attacks across the nation on women and Planned Parenthood trying to … force women back into caves,” said Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, who spoke at a State Capitol rally organized by Planned Parenthood.

Participants said they were particularly concerned about a bill authored by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, that would allow employers and insurance companies to deny contraception coverage for religious reasons.

The Senate rejected HB 2625 on a 13-17 vote Wednesday, but Ray Torres, spokesman for the House GOP majority, said Lesko plans to revive the measure.

Aboud said some Republicans dislike the bill but face election-year pressures.

“Ultra-conservatives are waiting in the wings to defeat anyone not against women’s choice,” she said.

Lesko’s bill followed protests by religious groups, including church-owned universities and hospitals, over President Barack Obama’s federal mandate for health insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Michelle Melchiorre, an A.T. Still University student working toward her master’s degree in public health, told the crowd she had to pay $90 a month when her insurance didn’t cover birth control prescribed to treat fibroid tumors.

“That’s my electric bill,” she said.

Kat Sabine, the local executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, a group advocating for abortion rights, said even if the rally “doesn’t have an impact on crazy laws right now, it will have an impact in November.”

Lesko said her bill simply protects religious freedoms that are being encroached upon by the federal government through health care mandates.

“We wouldn’t be talking about it today if the government would just butt out,” Lesko said. “But they haven’t. They’ve chosen to mandate, on all employers, that they have to include abortion-inducing pills, sterilization drugs and contraceptives in their insurance plan, even if it violates their religious beliefs, and that’s just wrong.”

Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy, said the defeat of HB 2625 on Wednesday should be a wake-up call for Arizonans.

“The bill does not prevent any woman from accessing any drugs,” Herrod said in a telephone interview. “A woman has the right to have contraceptive medicine or abortion medicine but does not have the right to compel anyone, including her employer, to pay for that medication.”

Herrod also said the “so-called war on women” is detached from reality.

“The majority of Americans take a pro-life stance,” she said. “These hysterical, over-the-top arguments are getting old.”