Pediatricians, labor unions, charities that fight birth defects, and other groups came out in unsurprising opposition on Monday to an amendment proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., that would allow employers to exclude any insurance benefit that they deem immoral. The Senate is expected to vote some time this week on Blunt’s proposal, a vote that almost certainly will kill it.
The newest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll shows that 49 percent of adults support President Obama’s plan to have health insurance companies pay for contraception coverage in cases where religiously affiliated employers object; 40 percent oppose it. The poll asked about the Blunt proposal -- 44 percent said they opposed creating such an exemption for employers, and 40 percent supported the idea.
Blunt’s legislation is one of many twists in the birth-control battle, which Republicans are painting as an issue of religious freedom and which Democrats say is about women’s health. Both sides have taken every possible chance at political theater – the latest being last week’s one-woman hearing sponsored by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
On Monday, the conservative Heritage Foundation retaliated with its own woman-only discussion, with participants emphasizing the religious liberty angle. "This is not an issue of contraception, or abortion, or sterilization," said Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., who was the panel's keynote speaker. "This is an issue of First Amendment rights.
Buerkle urged audience members to help politicians shift the frame of the debate. "If it's made a contraceptive issue, they’ll win, and that’s why they've done it, very cleverly," she said of the "very vocal" supporters of the insurance coverage mandate. "It is an assault on our Constitution. It is not about women's health."
The House Judiciary Committee is planning its own show on Tuesday with a scheduled hearing: “Executive Overreach: The HHS Mandate Versus Religious Liberty.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Easter Seals, Families USA, the March of Dimes, the Spina Bifida Association, and other groups-- many of them with no obvious political agenda -- said that Blunt’s proposal could keep basic health care from infants, children, adolescents, and pregnant women.
“The amendment would give expansive and explicit license to any employer, health plan, provider, or beneficiary to exclude any health service from insurance coverage. For instance, a small employer or health plan could ban maternity care for women because of religious convictions regarding out-of-wedlock pregnancies,” they said in a joint statement.
“Likewise, a health plan or small employer that objects to childhood immunizations, newborn screening for life-threatening genetic disorders, other components of well-child visits, or prenatal care would be fully within the law to deny coverage for any and all of these vital services.”