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02.15.12

Roy Blunt’s Push to Overturn Obama’s Contraception Compromise

A possible amendment to a bipartisan highway bill aims not only to reverse Obama’s birth-control rule—but to let employers pick and choose which health-care services to cover based on their religious or moral beliefs.

Unsatisfied with President Obama’s compromise on birth control, which gives religious organizations a one-year grace period to find an insurance provider that will cover contraception for female employees, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is championing an amendment to overturn it.

Although some Republican senators and Catholic groups have praised the president’s change to his original rule, which required all employers’ insurance for employees to cover birth control, Blunt’s amendment would give any employer, not just religiously affiliated ones, the right to refuse coverage of any services, treatments, or medications included in a health-care mandate that they disagree with.

If a health-care-related item or service included in a company’s health-care plan clashes with the moral or religious beliefs of an employer, or even an insurance provider, they can refuse to pay for it. The amendment also includes a provision about discrimination—making clear that the government should not be allowed to discriminate against employers or health-care providers that choose not to cover something that goes against their religious beliefs.

To be clear, under this amendment, employers and insurance providers are allowed to refuse coverage of much more than just birth control. They can refuse to pay for any federally mandated health-care service—maternity care, HIV/AIDS screenings, and diabetes testing, among others. And because the amendment allows for “moral objection,” a religious explanation need not be given when employers deny paying for services. Treatments for any condition that could have been brought on by what an employer might consider an unhealthy or immoral lifestyle may be rejected.

In order to pass the amendment, Blunt wants to attach it to a popular highway bill, a plan that has drawn criticism from several Senate Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid originally blocked a vote on the amendment last week, ahead of the announcement of Obama’s compromise, but agreed Tuesday to allow a vote.

Blunt has rounded up support from several prominent voices on the right, including House GOP leader Eric Cantor and Glenn Beck. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has his own bill that permits all employers to cite their religious or moral beliefs in refusing coverage of birth control.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said both bills take “absolutely the wrong approach,” echoing the arguments of a number of frustrated Senate Democrats.

Blunt insists that “if that amendment passed, nobody would have a right ongoing that they haven’t had for 225 years.”

“It would allow anyone to deny any health-care service for any reason,” Sen. Barbara Boxer said of Blunt’s amendment at a press conference earlier this week. “If I believe that prayer should cure all disease, that’s my belief, and I’m an employer, I can deny coverage for any life-saving intervention.”

Blunt, on the other hand, insists that “if that amendment passed, nobody would have a right ongoing that they haven’t had for 225 years.”

House Speaker John Boehner has delayed voting on the highway bill, allowing more time for amendments and other issues to be debated.