Update: The Blunt amendment was defeated in the Senate 51-48. That means that the Obama administration’s policy remains in place: Women who work for Catholic employers will have no-cost contraception coverage in their insurance plans if they wish it.
Tomorrow, the U.S. Senate will vote on the Blunt Amendment–or, as conservatives choose to euphemize it, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011. It was introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to provide an escape hatch to any employer who doesn’t want to provide a health care service which they find religiously or morally objectionable.
Blunt and his buddies in the Senate and House have tried to frame this as a religious liberty issue, but that’s disingenuous: It’s an attempt to impose their religious, and moral, values on anyone who works for anyone who holds different religious and moral values.
Just as holding an aspirin between your knees isn’t birth control, saying that the denial of contraceptives for women is all about religious liberty and not about denying women contraceptives (and control over their reproductive lives) doesn’t make it true. And, really, you aren’t fooling anyone, not even Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler and their millions of viewers.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that all male panel lined up to testify at Congressman Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on religious liberty and contraception. At first I thought it was a parody or a flashback–but this is 2012. Those men–so stern, so smug, so sure of their moral superiority and their right to dictate to everyone else. What about my religious liberty? Or anyone else’s for that matter? If the stakes weren’t so high, it would be laughable.
The Blunt Amendment has 37 co-sponsors, including Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) who is being challenged for his Senate seat by Elizabeth Warren. I don’t think this will help him with Massachusetts women.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) already exempts churches and houses of worship. The Obama administration then found a way to let religious-affiliated institutions off the hook by requiring insurance companies to provide contraception without co-pays. But that’s not good enough for the religious bully boys–they want to be able to control the lives of their employees even when they don’t have to pay for it.
While this bill panders to religious extremist’s fears of women controlling their own sex lives, it also opens the door to other tempting repressions. The religious exemption could allow an employer who’s a Jehovah’s Witness to prohibit coverage for blood transfusions. A Scientologist would be able to deny psychiatric care to an employee. A traditional Christian Scientist, who hasn’t adopted the Church’s updated doctrine, could decide to deny all health care, except for prayer. The moral convictions’ [PDF] clause would allow anyone to claim a moral aversion to just about anything to deny their employees health care. If an employer is morally opposed to the use of animals in medical research, then any pharmaceutical products tested on animals could be excluded. Or, one may be morally opposed to providing health care at all to employees.
Let’s make sure our Senators hear from us and blunt the ill-conceived Blunt Amendment with a resounding defeat.