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Thursday, 01 March 2012

Reject the So-Called Conscience Amendment

UPDATE 12N ET You can exhale now. The Blunt Amendment was just defeated in the Senate 51-48.

category_bug_journal2.gif There is a bill - S.1813 - America Fast Forward Financing Innovation Act of 2011 – coming up for a vote in the Senate soon. It is designed to protect 1.8 million existing highway jobs and create an estimated one million more. God knows the nation can use those jobs.

In normal times (which we have not seen in Congress since the election of President Barack Obama), the vote would be taken as a matter of course – little debate, no muss, no fuss.

But not this time.

That is because, in one of those instances that makes me crazy about how Congress works, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) has attached a completely unrelated amendment - in this case, a religious/health/cultural bill co-sponsored by Senator Scott Brown (R-MA).

The Blunt Amendment, also referenced as the “conscience bill,” takes the arguments on contraceptive coverage we have been enduring recently to an unheard of extreme: his bill would not just reverse the Obama administration's birth control mandate, it would allow employers to refuse to include coverage in their employee health plans of any health service they choose.

Supporters of the Blunt Amendment disagree with that interpretation so I will let you decide: here is the exact language from the Amendment (full text here [pdf]):

"...a health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package...to fail to be a qualified health plan or to fail to fulfill any other requirement under this title if it declines to provide coverage of specific items or services because -

“(i) providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer or other entity offering the plan...

“Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, a health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide timely or other access to items or services under this title...because it has respected the rights of conscience of such a provider...”

There you have it. Any business owner, CEO, etc. could decline coverage for his/her employees for contraception and – oh, how about childhood vaccines, treatment for HIV, STDs, prenatal care or anything else is it offends their personal religious or moral convictions - an extremely slippery slope that in this case includes anything under the sun.

It has become so controversial that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced Tuesday he will allow a vote on the Blunt Amendment (not including the highway bill) today, Thursday:

"After discussing it with numerous senators," said Reid, "I decided we should set up a vote on contraception and women's health. Once we've put this extreme and distracting proposal behind us, I hope my Republican colleagues will stop living in the past and join us this year, 2012."

Senator Reid might have noted that the Blunt Amendment goes further than contraception and women's health which, alone, are awful enough. But it would permit denial of coverage for any health item or service whatsoever at a business executive's personal whim.

Many groups oppose the Blunt Amendment including 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 so should elders. Because we are privileged to enjoy the closest thing to a single-payer system the U.S. has ever known (as much under assault as Medicare may be), our good fortune makes it imperative to help ensure that our children and grandchildren are not forced into even less health care than they have now before they are old enough for Medicare.

Although I have lately come to question the usefulness of online petitions, they can't hurt. I found three objecting to the Blunt Amendment:

Elizabeth Warren
ACLU
DSCC – Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

If you are reading this early enough in the day before the vote, it might be more effective to call your senators. You can telephone the U.S. Congress main number (202.224.3121) and ask to be connected to them by name.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ron Figueroa: The Wayward Way


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Thanks.

Congressman called on my way out the door!

Republicans have decided going back to the '50s is not far enough and they now want to head for the dark ages where the Church rules the laws of the land. How far they will take this is hard to say but for now they are after women, gays, and anybody who is not white (or talks their talk) and male. They have claimed white males have been mistreated by recent laws and are going out of their way to get power back through eliminating equal rights or affirmative action. And it isn't even all white males, just those who talk their talk and think as they do.

It's an amazing time and if any middle class working person votes for them, it about has to be based on religious, fundamentalist grounds. Guess we'll find out how big the audience is in our country for things like Santorum says and for which he is applauded-- as for instance putting down public or higher education as threats to faith.

I am in amazement as I remember a time where there were reasonable Republicans. Men and women who understood what the word conservative meant. Oregon had one of those with Mark Hatfield. They don't appear to exist anymore. There is no place in their party for them and now we see Senator Snowe retiring over her frustration that nothing can be done about the real problems in this country. It is amazing and it's been escalating over the years as one element in this country speaks up and votes for people like Blunt.

This bill is another example of the extremism and this take over not just of religion but of only one version of it-- extreme fundamentalism. And they are so proud of themselves for it, as though a god is going to pat them on the head for taking away the rights of others, for trying to turn this country into a theocracy. If those of us who see it happening don't stand up against it, we might end up with the nation we deserve-- and it will look a lot like what the Taliban hope to create whenever they hold power in terms of how it treats minorities, women and anybody not of 'their' version of faith.

What Rain said!!! I'm off to call my senator!!!!!

thanks for this post, Ronni..I keep wondering what decade I'm living in. I'm calling!

I have already signed two petitions against the Blunt amendment. I do think petitions impress Senators to a small degree. As you said, Ronni, it can't hurt.

In my case I am whistling in the dark as my Senators are John Kyle (he of the ignorant comment that Planned Parenthood spends 90% of their money on abortions) and cranky John McCain who will vote against the Democrats even if they were to introduce legislation that would give him another million dollars just because he lost the last election.

Kyle is retiring (thank God) and John McCain is being obstructionist because he had his ego stepped on.

i keep shaking my head thinking maybe i'm living in an alternate universe. when my youngest daughter was born - my 4th child, pill failure, i, pretty damned crazy, asked my doctor to tie my tubes. No, he said, "you are sooo beautiful and your children are special" WHAT? That was 44 years ago and here we are living in the Hand Maid's Tale land. arghhhhh.

and not vaccinating - a friend's new baby almost died with whooping cough because neighbors don't vaccinate!

THIS JUST IN, from the Washington Post: "Senate defeats bill to reverse birth control rule"

It was way too close for comfort. Casey and his two henchmen almost tipped the other way and Collins was the only Repub. to vote "nay". If the Repubs win the White House and get control of the Senate we are totally screwed. So hitch up your belts, pull up your socks and get to work. We must work for every sane candidate that's running this year and do everything we can (that's legal) to block as many of the right-wing nuts that are trying to turn this democracy into a full-fledged oligarchy and they just might do it if they get elected.

I don't think my blood pressure can take much more of this widespread GOP assault on women's rights. I'm apoplectic half the time. Not a good way to live.

That this amendment was tacked onto a completely unrelated bill is another major complaint of mine. No amendment about oranges should ever be allowed on a bill about apples. If the oranges proposal can't pass on its own merits, it should die.

The way things work (or don't work) in Washington, it's a wonder this nation has lasted as long as it has.

I was just trying to decide what to contribute to the DNC. Should I stretch my budget or contribute at a more conservative level? My computer sat next to me with my e-mail "up" so I decided to take a look at Ronni's blog to see if could fire up my passion and help me make my decision. What an effective strategy. Today I am contributing at, what is for me, a handsome some. I will also use the "comment card" in the contribution envelope to emplore the DNC to do good work with my hard-earned money. Please, Please don't be as crazy as the Republicans"!!!@###

Thanks Ronni for putting this post up! The comments are so right on too.

Like Kay, I say "what rain said," and like Gail any contributions of mine will be accompanied by comments.

To the mattresses! Prepare for battle.

The craziness has gone over the top with this one. A commenter on a CNN story on the defeat of the Blunt amendment said the only way we are going to settle this is with a civil war. "If we shoot everyone who doesn't agree with us government will be a lot smaller." Pretty chilling - not the first time I've read that suggestion either. Which is a bit weird, they claim aborting a fetus who would not survive birth is murder but shooting your neighbour because he doesn't agree with you isn't murder?

There are always mentally unstable people whose fuses are short and reasoning powers are limited who are easily manipulated. And those are being encouraged by the GOP "us against us" rhetoric in an attempt to establish a theocracy.

I married a Canadian and haven't lived in the US in 40+ years and frankly I'd be terrified to live there now.

I signed my 3rd petition against the Blunt amendment and was happy to hear that it didn't pass. If I were religious (I'm SO not!), the Taliban-like behavior displayed by the Far Right would surely have driven me away by now. How can any thinking person listen to the likes of Santorum and still believe? Perhaps the operative word here is "thinking". The Far Right rejects any signs of intelligence, education or the ability to think for ourselves.

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