As Kristin mentioned earlier, today was the Blunt Amendment’s day of reckoning in the Senate . Fifty Democratic Senators and retiring Republican Senator Olympia Snowe did the right thing and voted against this destructive legislation. Sadly, the rest of the Republican caucus and three Democrats (Senators Casey, Manchin and Nelson) voted to give corporate bosses the power to pick and choose which healthcare services their employees and employees’ families may receive.
Via TPM, I saw that Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) released a thoroughly misleading defense of his vote:
“However, the Senate is having a debate as to whether the federal government has the right to bully religious organizations. Let’s be clear, in no way would this amendment deny or interfere with a woman’s access to contraception. This is an absurd allegation. The debate today is about one thing and one thing only; whether the federal government can force religious organizations to provide a service that violates their faith. Supporters of the President’s healthcare law believe the federal government can oppress religious organizations, force individuals to buy a product they may not want, and put personal healthcare decisions in the government’s hands.
First of all, giving every employer the power to deny coverage of any treatment based on any ostensibly moral objection most certainly would interfere with access to contraception. USCCB staffer Anthony Picarello indicated as much when he complained that the Obama administration’s accommodation for religious institutions would not allow Taco Bell owners to deny coverage of contraception. The only way Heller isn’t outright lying is if he A) honestly believes that no employer would refuse to cover contraception – in which case this whole fight would be a mere intellectual exercise, or B) is completely unaware that many women cannot afford contraception coverage out of pocket.
Second, the Obama administration has explicitly put in place policies ensuring that religious congregations, dioceses, schools, hospitals, charities, universities, and health care facilities will not be required to provide contraception coverage if they have moral objections to it. I don’t know which religious organizations Heller thinks are being “oppressed” here, but he must have a broader definition of a religious organization (and a more expansive definition of oppression) than I can imagine. Or, again, he could just be dealing in misinformation.
In the coming days I expect we’ll be hearing more arguments along these lines, but I hope other lawmakers who voted in favor of the Blunt Amendment will provide a more honest explanation for their support of this extreme legislation. I’d love hear somebody explain why letting employers dictate which health care services their employees’ may receive is a morally defensible way to address religious liberty concerns.
After Rep. Darell Issa (R-CA) deemed Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke “unqualified” to speak at his hearing on the contraception coverage mandate and religious liberty, Fluke testified before a special committee last week about the effect this new policy will have on women.
As Tara covered last week, Fluke described the challenges of a fellow law student and friend who required oral contraceptives to treat her ovarian disease. When the university refused to cover her prescription, she was unable to afford the cost out of pocket and forced to stop taking them. Soon afterward she developed dangerous ovarian cysts and had to undergo an expensive, invasive surgery that might prevent her from ever having children.
Yesterday on America Live with Megyn Kelly, Kelly hosted fellow Fox anchor Trace Gallagher to talk about Fluke’s testimony. What followed was the most brazen display of shoddy journalism and old-fashioned misogyny I’ve ever seen on television news.
Following a clip of Fluke explaining that out-of-pocket costs of oral contraceptives can reach over $3,000 during law school—a prohibitive amount for a full-time student—Gallagher cited unnamed “critics” who calculated the large number of condoms that amount of money could buy and impugned the students:
GALLAGHER: Critics, of course, used her statement to kind of do the math, saying 3,000 over 3 years of law school for birth control is a lot of birth control. They mentioned that condoms are about a buck a piece, that equals about a thousand condoms and other birth control, Megyn. So, the question is, they wonder exactly what’s going on at Georgetown Law School. “When do they study?” was the response.
Aside from apparently not knowing the difference between condoms and oral contraceptives, Gallagher completely ignored the entire point of Fluke’s testimony, which focused on women who use oral contraceptives for non-contraceptive purposes. Unless condoms have some medicinal properties I’m not aware of, Gallagher is turning a serious discussion about a woman’s health crisis into a sick, sexist joke meant to distort the debate and demean a brave woman. It’s truly stunning.
Fox News did a disservice to both their viewers and women everywhere by airing such insulting nonsense. They owe Ms. Fluke and her friends a correction and an apology.
Two weeks ago during Rep. Darrell Issa’s hearing on the contraception mandate and religious liberty, Catholic Bishop William Lori made an elaborate analogy in his testimony comparing the mandate to a kosher deli being forced to serve pork to its customers.
As I explained, this was a terrible analogy. Employers providing health insurance are entirely different than restaurants serving customers, and birth control is nothing like pork.
Apparently, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s Asma Uddin didn’t get the message. Responding to a question from Chairman Smith at today’s Judiciary Committee hearing on the same subject, Uddin made the following similarly problematic analogy:
SMITH: What are other examples, what else could the government force religious organizatiosn to provide if this madnate were to remain in effect as is unchanged.
UDDIN: Well, I mean, this mandate has been justified on the basis of the fact that there’s health benefits to providing contraceptives. But the issue of health benefits is not the point. If the government mandated everything that had positive health benefits, it could possibly mandate that everyone drink red wine for heart health even though it violates the religious beliefs of Muslims and Mormons. And it could mandate that everyone eat shellfish even though that violates the religious beliefs of Jews.
Uddin’s comments hearken back to the conservative canard that the Affordable Care Act’s individual coverage mandate would allow the government to force you to eat broccoli.
I don’t know what it is with conservatives and force feeding, but let’s be clear here; no one is going to force anyone to ingest anything, pork, shellfish, birth control pills, you name it. Nor, as Republican committee members fretted about in the hearing, does the government now have the power to force individuals to stop smoking, exercise or make any other personal behavior changes.
The policy question at stake is about setting a minimum requirement of services in commercial health insurance plans — services that are optional for the planholder to use.
Even if Uddin were complaining that the preventive service coverage requirement merely sets a precedent for the government to require that shellfish and wine be included in this list of mandated services in the future, she’d still be off base.
The required free preventive services such as cancer screenings and contraception were recommended by the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM), which reviewed evidence-based scientific and medical research and expert opinion to develop a list of services that fit the guidelines set out by Congress in the Affordable Care Act. So long as the IOM isn’t supplanted by the National Restaurant Association, we don’t have to worry about doctors being forced to write prescriptions for shrimp cocktails.
The IOM’s review was professional, rigorous, comprehensive and open to public comment. To suggest that this process might lead to frivolous inclusions of random foodstuffs demonstrates both a misunderstanding of the system and disrespect for the experts involved.
Exasperated protestations against the unprecedented consolidation of power by a “Big Brother” government intent on taking control of every aspect of Americans’ personal lives may make for exciting campaign speeches, but they have absolutely nothing to do with the policies in question.
In another piece of news about Catholics reacting positively to the Obama administration’s religious accommodation on contraception coverage, faculty members at John Carroll University have written a letter to their university president urging him to drop his opposition.
47 of John Carroll University’s roughly 215 faculty members signed a letter to school president Robert L. Niehoff, SJ, asking him to accept the contraception “accommodation” and include such coverage in employee health plans. The faculty members express their concern that “the bishops have chosen a path of continued confrontation.” Given that the bishops “have rejected the accommodation offered by the administration,” they continue, “leads us to wonder what motivates their continued resistance.”
These faculty members join the Catholic Health Association, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, Catholic theologians and Catholic social justice leaders in expressing support for President Obama’s sensible approach to protecting the conscience rights of religious employers and women’s health.
In contrast, Catholic bishops have continued to fight the Obama administration, insisting that their particular legal analysis is the only valid Catholic position. But just like the way the Bishops’ misconceptions about abortion funding became a contentious issue in the health care reform debate, this controversy isn’t simply a matter of moral principles, but rather a policy question of how to apply those principles in a complex legal and regulatory environment.
During last week’s House Committee on Oversight and Government hearing on religious freedom, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) posed a question to the witnesses about women who take oral contraceptives for purely medical reasons, such as those who need to mitigate their risk for ovarian cancer or blood clots.
Catholic Bishop William Lori responded that “our Catholic law of theology…recognizes that the same drug can be used for different purposes with different effects and our plans reflect that, so we should be given credit for the nuance and the understanding that we have already brought to the table.”
That stands as an interesting contrast to the testimony of Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University Law School student who was prevented from speaking at last week’s hearing by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) for supposedly being “unqualified.” Given a subsequent opportunity Wednesday at a special hearing convened by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, Fluke relayed stories of her female classmates who have struggled to gain access to the health care that their medical conditions demanded under Georgetown’s insurance guidelines.
One of Fluke’s friends needed birth control bills to prevent ovarian cysts; as a self-identified lesbian, she was clearly not interested in the contraceptive purposes of the pill. However, despite a letter from her doctor detailing her medical needs, she was denied coverage under Georgetown’s plan and unable to afford the high cost of birth control pills on her own. As a result of stopping her treatment, she soon developed a massive cyst on her ovary and underwent invasive surgery to remove it – a surgery which may have compromised her ability to conceive later in life.
This isn’t a small point. 58 percent of women who have used birth control pills report that they use the pill for reasons other than contraception, and 14 percent of women use birth control for purely medical reasons. For these women, access to contraception is not a theoretical debate about religion and politics, it’s a matter of critical health care.
Since, as Bishop Lori clearly articulated, the Catholic Church acknowledges there’s no controversy around providing contraceptive pills for medical needs that fall outside of the usual theological proscription, Catholic employers negotiating religious exemptions ought to do a better job ensuring their policies actually match this principle.
The credit Bishop Lori believes the Church deserves for this “nuance and understanding” should be reserved until these insurance plans actually put it into practice.
CORRECTION: This post originally stated that 95% of women who use birth control pills report that they use it for reasons other than contraception. The actual figure is 58%. 95% represents the number of women who have never had sex who do so. We regret the error.