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Well, it may surprise you this bill was written by a woman. Republican state representative and House majority whip, Debbie Lesko, joining us from Phoenix today. Good to see you.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE DEBBIE LESKO (R), ARIZONA: Good to see you. Thank you for having me.
WHITFIELD: So, offer some clarity because there's a lot of confusion it appears, as to how this should be interpreted. First off, what was your intention? LESKO: Well, what my bill does is one thing and one thing only. It protects the First Amendment rights of the citizens of Arizona. Government should not be telling the mom-and-pop employer or a faith- based charity organization that they have to provide something that's against their religious belief. That's all it does.
It does not allow an employer to ask a woman if they're using contraceptives or not. It does not allow an employer to fire a woman. You know, unfortunately the opposition ...
WHITFIELD: Well, then, why is that the interpretation by some? Why is that the interpretation by some that it does empower an employer to kind of get into the privacy, or the business, the medical conditions, et cetera, of a woman as it pertains to contraceptives.
LESKO: All I can guess is that the opposition is trying to spread a whole bunch of misinformation out there to confuse the issue.
My legislation does one thing and one thing only. It protects the -- the employer, the mom-and-pop organization or the faith-based organization that doesn't want to be forced by the government to do something against its religious belief.
You know, I'm a woman. I'm not going to do something that hurts a woman. You know, if the bill actually did these things that everybody's saying that it did, I wouldn't even support the bill.
It just, frankly, does not do that and it's unfortunate that the opposition is spreading around these lies.
WHITFIELD: But isn't this an imposition on all employers. On all employers, this applies to all.
LESKO: I really -- yes and, if they have a religious objection, if and only if. I really don't think a lot of employers are going to do this.
WHITFIELD: But doesn't that then put then employer in a position where they have to ask the employee -- are you using contraceptive? And if you are, in what way are you using it? How would an employer know if not to ask that question?
LESKO: You know, all it does -- this is about the mandate that the government is putting on that the employer has to cover it in their insurance plan. It has nothing to do with the employer asking the employee if they use contraceptives.
In fact, it allows an employee to go out and buy contraceptives on their own if they happen to be an employee of one of those few employers that aren't forced to provide it in the insurance.
You know, I called Walmart last week and they said you could buy generic contraceptives for $9 a month. That's probably cheaper than the co-pay.
This has nothing to do with taking away the rights of a woman to buy contraceptives for whatever reason. All it says is don't have the government force an employer to provide it in their insurance plan.
WHITFIELD: But are you --
LESKO: That's all this bill does.
WHITFIELD: But are you now kind of setting the stage that there would be some women who would feel compelled to buy it on their own and others who would be able to enjoy the same privilege by way of their insurance? That there's a real conflict here.
LESKO: There's no conflict. All my bill is saying is that the government should not be telling the mom-and-pop employer or a faith- based organization -- they shouldn't be forcing them to provide coverage on the morning after pill if it's against their religious belief. That is all my bill does.
It protects their First Amendment rights which is in the United States Constitution.
WHITFIELD: But then the argument is being made that this is a privacy issue. It will be challenged on the state level and it's certainly one that will be challenged on a federal level.
Why, you know, why do we have in place, you know, HIPAA rules where employers and insurance companies are not sharing information about individual patients and you are proposing a proposal that would erase that kind of federal protection?
LESKO: Well, you're just simply wrong. The opposition is wrong. My bill does nothing to violate the HIPAA rules. In fact, I asked our attorneys at the House of Representatives. My bill does nothing of that sort.
The opposition is really turning this legislation around and trying to make it something that it's not. All my bill does is says that a mom-and-pop employer that doesn't believe that they should be forced by the government to provide the morning-after pill doesn't have to include it in their insurance.
It says nothing about forcing the employee to not take contraceptives. They can still take them. Just it won't be provided in the insurance plan of that particular employer.
WHITFIELD: And what do you see -- do you see the success or the failure of this proposal, clearly?
LESKO: You know, we -- I think it passed out of the House of Representatives by a wide margin. I expect it's going to pass out of the Arizona Senate by a wide margin.
And I believe that it will be signed by the governor of the state of Arizona because it protects our First Amendment right, freedom of religion, and that is what America is all about.
WHITFIELD: All right, well, let me ask you this about your proposed repeal of the no-discrimination clause Our legal contributor, Paul Callan, was pretty taken aback by that when he spoke to us yesterday. Let's play part of what he had to say.
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PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: From a political standpoint, it was very, very foolish of Arizona to throw this into the hopper because it's illegal. That is clearly illegal and, by the way, there are federal laws that would protect women if they were fired for getting contraceptives.
Federal law clearly protects that right and it doesn't matter what the states say, women will remain protected. So it's very, very foolish for them to eliminate the provision. I think it creates a controversy and essentially creates a totally unenforceable law.
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WHITFIELD: And your response to him?
LESKO: You know, I talked to the lawyers that help me write up this legislation. They said that that language was not necessary. You know, there has been no discrimination case -- I certainly don't want to discriminate against women because I'm a woman.
In fact, I'm not a Catholic and I have no personal objection to the use of contraceptives, but I respect the women that do.
My lawyers say and the House of Representative lawyers say this does not violate any HIPAA rules, any privacy rules. You know, that language was just not necessary and, so, that's why it was taken out.
WHITFIELD: Do you think it's necessary to make any more modifications in this proposal before it moves forward?
LESKO: You know, I'm always open to ideas and suggestions, but from what the lawyers tell me, the language is just fine. I think what's happening is the opposition is really drudging up some things that really aren't related to this bill and it's really unfortunate.
Because all my bill does is try to protect, again, the mom-and- pop employer, the faith-based organization, like St. Vincent de Paul, who is now being forced by the government to include something in their insurance plans that they have a moral objection to. I just think that's wrong. I think it's un-American.
WHITFIELD: Well, how do you respond to many who say, quite frankly, it's un-American or there are real disparities between the argument and the restrictions being proposed in your bill or otherwise about women's reproductive rights, contraceptives versus the availability of Viagra to continue to be covered by most insurance without the same kind of argument that's being made about contraceptives for women?
LESKO: You know, the only reason we're talking about contraceptives is because that's what's being mandated.
Quite frankly, I'd prefer not to be talking about contraceptives or morning-after pills, but the reason I'm talking about it ...
WHITFIELD: But you proposed it, so you don't. -- you proposed it, so, that's actually not true. You don't have a problem with this argument because you have helped instigate the argument.
LESKO: That's inaccurate. It's actually the government that has mandated employers to include this against their religious beliefs. You know, if the government hadn't done that, I wouldn't be talking about it.
WHITFIELD: State Representative Debbie Lesko, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.
LESKO: Thank you so much.
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