Arizona bill could require medical reason for birth control

March 16, 2012 at 9:11 AM ET

The political battle over birth control took a sharp turn recently when an Arizona state lawmaker introduced a bill she says would allow employers to avoid offering women health insurance coverage for contraception if the company objects on moral or religious grounds.

“We don’t live in the Soviet Union,” Republican Arizona State Rep. Debbie Lesko told the Associated Press. “And so government shouldn’t be telling employers, Catholic organizations and mom-and-pop (businesses) to do something that’s against their moral beliefs.”

The measure is part of an increasingly heated and largely partisan debate on whether the Obama administration overstepped its bounds in requiring insurance carriers serving religious institutions to offer women coverage for birth control. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have locked horns on the issue, with many in Republican leadership accusing the Obama administration of violating religious freedom.

“It’s about the administration and the president saying to the Catholic Church that we know what your faith holds, and you have to abide by that,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in March on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Many Democrats say Republican leaders are trying to violate women’s rights.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, recently told TODAY.com that the political climate towards women's health issues has become toxic. 

“The Republican leadership had a panel on contraception and there wasn’t a single woman on the panel,” she pointed out. 

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh also waded into the fray when he called birth control activist and Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” for advocating for contraception coverage. Limbaugh apologized for the comments after his show lost a number of commercial sponsors.

The measure wending through the Arizona state legislature has sparked similar controversy, as the American Civil Liberties Union is joining the fight against it.

“If you think the decision about whether to have a child is one for you and your partner, not your boss and senator, I urge you to speak up now,” Jennifer Dalven of the group’s Reproductive Freedom Project wrote on the ACLU’s blog.

Politicians would do well not to let the debate over contraception drag on into the fall election season, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told TODAY.com in a recent interview.

“The vast majority of Americans support contraceptives,” Sabato said. “When you have those kinds of numbers, a candidate would have to be nuts to raise this in the general.”

More: Gillibrand: Contraception debate will cost GOP votes

7 states sue Obama over birth control coverage rule 

Woman called 'slut' by Limbaugh is 'stunned, outraged' 

Women roar back at Rush's rhetoric 

Video: College student testifies at birth control hearing 

Bill O'Reilly: Viagra should be covered, birth control should not 

Why birth control is pushing political buttons 

TODAY.com political contributor Halimah Abdullah is the site’s woman in Washington.