Dear Mr. Cooney:
Thank you for contacting me regarding your views on the S. 1467, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011, introduced by Senator Blunt (R-MO) as well as the recent decision by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to require insurance plans to cover preventive services for women, including recommended contraceptive services, without charging a co-pay, co-insurance, or a deductible. I appreciate hearing from you on this very important issue.
As you know, on January 20, 2012, HHS issued a final rule regarding preventive health services for women. This rule required most health insurance plans to cover preventive services for women, such as well-woman visits, breastfeeding support, and contraception services, without charging a co-payment, co-insurance, or a deductible. Churches and other religious institutions were exempt from this ruling and nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, did not provide contraceptive coverage in their current insurance plan had until August 1, 2013 to comply with the new law. On February 10, 2012, President Obama offered an accommodation on this ruling in order to alleviate concerns surrounding religious liberty. While the main provisions of the rule still apply, organizations affiliated with religious institutions will not be required to pay for contraception in their health insurance plans.
On August 2, 2011, Senator blunt introduced S1467, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011. This bill would amend health care reform to permit a health plan to decline coverage of specific items and services that are contrary to the religious beliefs of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan or the purchaser or beneficiary (in the case of individual coverage) without penalty. As you may know, Senator Blunt offered his bill as an amendment to the transportation reauthorization legislation. On March 1, the Senate voted to set aside this amendment by a vote 51 to 48.
I have strong concerns regarding the broad implications of this legislation. This proposal would allow employers and insurance companies to deny coverage for any essential health service that they object to on the basis of personal religious belief or moral convictions. That means employers and insurance companies could not only deny coverage of birth control, they could also block access to any essential health care service, including maternity care, mental health treatment, mammograms, or cancer screenings. I believe preventive services are an essential part of woment's health and this bill would decrease a woman's ability to access these critical services.
Although we may disagree on this issue, I want you to know I appreciate the time you have taken to share your views with me. I welcome your input on any issue which is important to you and hope you will keep in touch. If you would like to know more about my work in the Senate, please feel free to sign up for my weekly udpates at http://murray.senate.gov/updates.
United States Senator
Thank you for responding to my message. Quite frankly, I'm amazed at the argument you have put forth. Are people really falling for this? On the one hand, you are claiming that contraception is a preventative health service. This is clearly relying on the false view that pregnancy, and even the ability to become pregnant, is some form of illness. Considering the various agencies that exists specifically dedicated to providing access to these services to those women who cannot afford them, I fail to see how legislation requiring people to act against their moral convictions on this matter is necessary in any way.
On the other hand, you list maternity care, mental health treatment, mammograms, and cancer screenings as specific examples of health services that could be denied to women on the basis of religious conviction. Can you name one religion that actually prohibits those services? Even Christian Scientists, who essentially deny the existence of physical illness, allow access to these services. You also act as though the organizations which help those who need access to medical care don't exist. In fact, Catholic hospitals and other organizations do so, and sometimes at no cost to the women. I'm sorry, but that whole argument is a "straw-man." You are again, trying to equate contraception with preventive care. Preventive care is care that prevents illness and disease. The ability to get pregnant is not an illness and pregnancy is not a disease. This mandate, which could result in the closure of Catholic hospitals all across the nation, will likely end up making these necessary services you cite less available to those women who need them.
I am also disturbed that you would claim that churches and "religious institutions" are exempt while non-profit employers who do not provide coverage for religious reasons must comply. The fact is, as is now well known, that many of those non-profit employers who don't provide the coverage for religious reasons are themselves religious institutions that won't be exempted. This inconsistency is only accomplished by applying a definition of religious institution that is extremely narrow. Not only would a religious book store - clearly established for the propagation of a faith - not qualify, nor would a non-profit hospital run by Catholic nuns, a Catholic run homeless shelter, or Catholic run centers that distribute food and clothing to the poor because their primary purpose is not to teach the Faith, they do not primarily serve only Catholics, and they do not primarily employ only Catholics. President Obama's "accommodation" is also a false one because, not only will the costs will be passed on to the employer, the employer will still be forced to contract for insurance plans against their religious convictions.
The administration, and your support of this mandate, is forcing these institutions to choose between following their faith or the rules of an increasingly totalitarian federal government. In the early days of the Church, the faithful were offered a simple “compromise” to avoid being thrown to the lions; all they had to do was acknowledge the Roman gods along with their own. Considering that the penalty that faces the Church today are so much less than in the past, I pray that the faithful will refuse to accept the false “compromise” that has been proposed, and that they will remember every politician – regardless of political party or office – who supported this.