Two different contraception coverage plans — one the brainchild of Arizona legislators and the other President Obama's mandate that employees of religious affiliated institutions receive free contraception coverage — moved forward Friday, revealing that the difference between stalwart social conservatives in this country and the reasonable people who raise eyebrows at them is pretty much the difference between Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones and Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada.
Not only would the evil Stanley Tucci bill allow religious-affiliated employers to deny contraception coverage to employees, but any employers who cite "religious beliefs" would also be exempt from providing FDA-approved forms of contraception as part of their employee health plans. The onus for procuring contraception would fall squarely on the shoulders of female employees, who, in order to have their contraception covered under their employer's health plan, would have to prove that the contraception is for another medical reason other than preventing pregnancy because I'm sure such parsimonious employers as would exclude contraception from their health plans would definitely be awesome about offering paid maternal leave. If she successfully proves that her contraception isn't for making her uterus hostile to precious new life, this beleaguered Arizona employee, after wasting so much energy not working and instead trying to prove that she's an active procreator, could ask an employer to reimburse the cost of contraception, most likely, according to the bill, if she pays an additional "administrative fee" for the privilege.
Though Arizona Republicans such as Rep. Debbie Lesko (co-sponsor of the new bill) have pulled out the Cold War tough-talk — Lesko said this week, "I believe that we live in America. We don't live in the Soviet Union" — in their effort to push their plan through the legislature, Jan Brewer has expressed some encouraging reticence to sign the bill into law should it pass both the state House and Senate, saying Friday that such a measure could make women "a little bit uncomfortable" to discuss contraception with their employers.
The biggest problem — and there are plenty to choose from — with the Arizona bill is that it allows employers far too much latitude in deciding what kinds of health care they'll provide for their employees. "Religious beliefs" can amount to just about anything, and barring language that forces employers to prove their professed beliefs in just as rigorous and humiliating a way as their female employees would have to prove that their sex lives are entirely procreational rather than recreational, the bill sets up an inherent iniquity in the employer/employee relationship. If a woman would have to prove that her contraception isn't exclusively for preventing pregnancy to ensure that it's covered under her health plan, then her employer should have to prove that he or she is seriously religious and not just the sort of person that shows up at church on Christmas Eve for the free snacks or read Siddhartha once in college. There could be a whole new government department where employers could obtain a religious license, something sort of like the DMV. They could go in, wait in line, and explain to a disinterested public worker how religiously essential it is to them that their lady employees not use their vaginas for fun. Then they'd take an eye test and probably a multiple choice test on a computer only it'd be in Aramaic because how else could we weed out the fakers from the true believers?
Meanwhile, at the federal level, even as Arizona's evil twin to the contraception coverage mandate picks up steam, the Obama administration moved forward with its modified healthcare plan, which shifts the burden of contraception coverage from balking religious employers to insurance companies, by opening a 90-day public comment period to find ways to most effectively and immediately implement the new rule.