A new Arizona bill would allow bosses to fire workers who buy contraception on their own. You knew they would go there, right? (More)

Arizona Legislature Goes There on Contraception

I hadn’t intended a series this week, but the Arizona state legislature changed my mind. Yesterday we discussed how the Republicans’ outrage over contraception substitutes “We the Employers” for “We the People.” And yesterday, Arizona Republicans proved it. As the Squirrel noted back in February:

And as it’s only a matter of time before they realize the distinction between ($X wages + $Y premiums) and $(X+Y) wages is not moral but purely accounting … expect some Republican to soon propose that employers should be legally allowed to fire employees who pay for such care themselves. Your employer issues your paycheck, after all….

Alas, the Squirrel was right. Yesterday the Arizona state senate judiciary committee approved a state house bill that would not only allow employers to exclude contraceptive coverage from health insurance benefits, but also allow employers to fire employees who buy birth control on their own:

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-2 Monday to endorse a controversial bill that would allow Arizona employers the right to deny health insurance coverage for contraceptives based on religious objections.

Arizona House Bill 2625, authored by Majority Whip Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, would permit employers to ask their employees for proof of medical prescription if they seek contraceptives for non-reproductive purposes, such as hormone control or acne treatment.

“I believe we live in America. We don’t live in the Soviet Union,” Lesko said. “So, government should not be telling the organizations or mom and pop employers to do something against their moral beliefs.”

You read that right. If your boss can’t dictate your reproductive choices … it’s communism! As bizarre as that sounds, it has deep historical roots in Southern-style populism.

“A man’s home is his castle.”

Most of us have heard the phrase “a man’s home is his castle.” That phrase traces to ancient Rome, and a variation appears in William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England:

And the law of England has so particular and tender a regard to the immunity of a man’s house, that it styles it his castle, and will never suffer it to be violated with impunity[….] For this reason no doors can in general be broken open to execute any civil process; though, in criminal causes, the public safety supersedes the private. [Spelling updated]

That English legal doctrine was adopted not only in American state statutes against burglary and other offenses against the home, but also in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

“Family government” … including employees

And as Jonathan L. Hafetz wrote for the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, the same doctrine was long used to affirm “family government, with the father, as head of the household, ‘commanding the loyalty’ of those dependent on him, such as wife, child, and propertyless wage earners, in return for their maintenance, care and protection.” He continues:

Traditionally, the state could not prosecute a husband for inflicting corporal punishment or “chastisement” upon his wife for failure to obey his commands as long as he did not cause her permanent injury. A husband could use force “within reasonable bounds” against his wife, just as a father traditionally could “correct his apprentices or children.”

Note that employees – not just wives and children – fell within the ambit of “family government” ruled by the husband-father-employer. Most Americans were farmers and many other businesses were also attached to the home.

The “family government” concept was especially strong in the Southern states, where many ’employees’ were owned slaves and slave women had what Barbara Bush-Slimani calls a “dual burden,” both to produce (work) and to reproduce (bear children-property). The same duty also often existed for women in company towns. If a father’s wages were not enough to pay for company housing and goods at the company store, both he and the employer – who paid children less – had a financial interest in wives producing additional workers.

Religious liberty?

Of course, Arizona Republicans claim this bill is about religious liberty. From the link above:

“My whole legislation is about our First Amendment rights and freedom of religion,” Lesko said. “All my bill does is that an employer can opt out of the mandate if they have any religious objections.”

Yet as the Arizona Republic‘s E.J. Montini reports, the most recent version of the bill deleted this clause:

A religious employer shall not discriminate against an employee who independently chooses to obtain insurance coverage or prescriptions for contraceptives from another source.

Thus the Arizona legislature proposes not only that an employer may claim a moral objection to including contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance. The employer can also fire an employee for buying contraception on her own, unless she submits “evidence that the prescription is not in whole or in part for [contraceptive, abortifacient, abortion or sterilization purposes].”

That’s a whole lot of “religious liberty” … for “We the Employers.” Republicans say it’s all about “original meaning.” But in practice, it’s all about wealth and male privilege.

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Happy Wednesday!