Republicans seek to take the right of self-determination away from women

They're wielding religion against women's rights
March 4, 2012 12:00 am

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Three votes. That's how close the Senate came to passing an amendment that would have let any employer deny coverage for any health care service based on "moral" objection.

The measure was sponsored by Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri in retaliation for the Obama administration making contraception a must-cover in health insurance reform. Churches and the like will be exempt, but not hospitals and schools run by religious groups.

Republicans and some clergy, especially Catholic bishops who want no part of providing birth control for anyone, insist the requirement amounts to government intrusion into church matters. Democrats and women counter that an exemption amounts to religious intrusion into preventive care.

So President Barack Obama agreed to split the difference. Religious employers would not have to pay for the coverage, but insurers would still have to make it available. Naturally, his critics rejected the offer with a loud raspberry.

This may have scored Republican politicians some points in the narrow confines of their own right wing, but it's creating a problem with public opinion in the rest of the country. The vast majority of Americans, including most Catholics, approve of contraception, and nearly all women have used it at some point. Hardly anyone else wants to leave such a major component of pubic health in the hands of the country's most parochial interests.

How, then, could Republicans counter the perception that they've gone barking mad where women are concerned? Well, by broadening the exemption so far beyond contraception and women that it's no longer about either one.

The Blunt amendment (to a highway funding bill, by the way) said all insurance plans and employers -- not just religious ones -- could refuse to provide coverage of "specific items or services" if the coverage would be "contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer or other entity offering the plan."

Please note, Mr. Blunt said: "This amendment does not mention any procedure of any kind. The word 'contraception' is not in there because it's not about a specific procedure. It's about a faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees."

First Published 2012-03-03 23:07:17

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