Our United States Senator from Missouri, Republican Roy Blunt, moves decisively against President Obama on whether contraceptives should be provided to women.
It's still clear that President Obama does not understand this isn't about cost — it's about who controls the religious views of faith-based institutions
The administration started last week in a bind over mandating Catholic run non-church hospitals and other institutions to allow for contraceptives as part of health care. There was a ton of push-back. The principle at stake was freedom of religion.
From the beginning, religious institutions, like churches, were not required to include contraceptives in health coverage to employees. The problem was not with religious institutions. Not directly. The issue had to do with whether non-religious institutions, like hospitals, that were owned and administered by religious groups could be subject to health insurance requirements, if those requirements were counter to religious teachings.
It pretty much looked like a no-win political situation for the administration.
Women's groups lined up pretty solidly for providing what has become a daily necessity for sexually active women, and even for women who are potentially active. The idea of seeking approval from religious authority for contraceptive use is regarded as medieval. The notion that this would be required by law was greeted with outrage.
Religious groups, in particular Catholic authorities, objected to being explicitly complicit in a practice that went against long held religious principles. You didn't have to be against contraception to hesitate about requiring something from a religious group that violated a tenet.
Polls came out that clarified things a bit. The proportion of people who supported the requirement was overwhelming. It turned out to be a huge political plus for the Democrats.
Still, the administration seemed to waver. Some folks sensed an impending sell out. Sure enough, an announcement came. there would be a compromise. At the heart of what seemed a settlement was an important fact. The cost of pregnancy is much greater than the cost of prevention. Pregnancy is a financial loser for insurance companies. Insurance providers live by cost-benefit analysis. Insurance company cost turned out to be a key to a proposal that surprised all sides.
Catholic authorities would not have to provide contraceptives.
And the institutions they run would not have to provide contraceptives.
But their insurance companies would have to provide contraceptives.
At least some Catholic officials were happy. Insurance companies were okay with it. Women's groups were enthusiastic. Democrats were great with it.
Even Catholic Bishops cautiously pronounced the modification a step in the right direction. After some deliberation they hardened their hearts. The policy change was "unacceptable and must be corrected." Republicans quickly joined in the opposition.
Which brings us to the Republican alternative. Senator Roy Blunt leads the charge. He proposes legislation forbidding insurance companies from providing contraceptives as part of group coverage if it violates the religious teaching of a church. Or the beliefs of a religious group running an institution. Or the beliefs of an employer who is not a religious group. Or the conscience of an individual owner of a business.
If an employer says he doesn't like it, the insurance company must keep it back. Senator Mitch McConnell, leader of Senate Republicans, is enthusiastic about the Blunt approach. Other Republican legislators are joining in, promising to bring to a vote the new restriction on contraceptive coverage for women.
The heart of the matter is the nature of religious freedom. How far outside of the workplace should an employer's decisions go?
The administration proposes that religion is a matter of individual choice. A woman gets to decide.
For conservative legislators, freedom of religion means freedom for financial providers of salaries and benefits. They should control the extent of group benefits. If you want to violate the private beliefs of your employer you ought to pay for it yourself, without the benefit of group membership. Think of it as a sort of dress code. After hours, you can express yourself at your own expense. During business hours, you had better dress as your boss instructs. Whether casual Fridays are optional will be decided by company policy.
As Senator Blunt almost points out, the issue is about who controls religious views and religious practices: You or your severely conservative boss.
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by John Myste
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