Contraception and the Highway Bill

The First Amendment of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That means that no one has the right to impose their religion or beliefs onto someone else, and that Congress can’t make a law in regards to an establishment of religion.  It does not say that they cannot make a law in regards to an establishment affiliated with an establishment of religion.

Government has been stepping in and determining what is and is not protected under the First Amendment for years, and continues to do so.

  • The Supreme Court in 1879 ruled in Reynolds V. United States that prohibiting polygamy did not violate a Mormon’s freedom of religion.
  • In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled that Amish children could not be forced to attend school after the eighth grade.
  • In response to Faith Healing that caused, and continues to cause, the deaths of children Oregon State in 1999 passed legislation that removed the spiritual healing defense against charges of second-degree manslaughter, first and second-degree criminal mistreatment, and nonpayment of child support.  The argument being that, “we have a constitutional right to die for our religious convictions.  We don’t have a constitutional right to make our children do so.” Senator Peter Courtney Democrat from Salem Oregon.
  • Mississippi and West Virginia require all children to be immunized without exception for religious belief.

Despite the compromise that religiously affiliated organizations such as a hospital or university do not have to break its belief and that Insurance companies will pick up the cost of birth control for its employees, the Catholic Church and political candidates say that this is still not good enough.  That no organization should have to provide anything to an employee that goes against its religious belief.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement that its concerns were not addressed and cited “serious moral concerns.” They went on to say:

Obama’s proposal “continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”

“We will therefore continue – with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency – our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government.”

The bishops want protection for any employer who opposes birth control.  They objected to the insurance companies covering the cost of the birth control because they believe ‘the insurance company would pay for it out of the pool of revenues it collected from its contract with the employer.’  Because the money would come from revenues that the employer paid that raises “serious moral concerns” the Bishops said.

A Sioux City Bishop Walker Nickless stated in an interview:

“We’ve got to stand up and violently oppose this.  We cannot let darkness overshadow us.”

On one hand Catholics are encouraged to plan families, only have the number of children that they can afford, and to consider the impact of family size on the community.  On the other hand they prohibit birth control use from even married couples.  Under Pope Benedict XVI the church has also made a major push to embrace environmental stewardship.

In 1966 Pope Paul VI’s birth control commission presented a preliminary report to the Pope.  The body had overwhelmingly voted to recommend lifting the prohibition on contraceptives.

Three bishops in a private meeting with the Pope pleaded:

“If the position on contraceptives was changed the teaching authority of the church would be questioned—the faithful could no longer trust the hierarchy.”

In 1870 the Roman Catholic Church formally announced Popes infallible.  As a result the Vatican claims that doctrine never changes and that the position they hold now on issues is the same as it was when Jesus was on earth.  If that is true then the position on Birth Control cannot change, the basis of the bishops argument with the Pope.

In July 1968 Pope Paul VI released an encyclical titled, Humanae Vitae, on Human Life, that reaffirmed the contraceptive ban. This caused the Catholic Church to lose some power over European and American Catholics, so they turned to Africa and Latin America.  The Vatican kept the flock weary of birth control by linking it to colonialism.  The argument, “the West wants to control poor people and reduce their numbers instead of addressing the causes of poverty”.

A Congressional Research Service Report on the 1994 United Nations population conference in Cairo states:

“The Vatican…has sought support for its views from the developing world by accusing the West of ‘biological colonialism’ in promoting family planning programs and has sought allies in the fundamentalist Islamic nations of Libya and Iran.”

In that effort the Vatican had the support of the Reagan and Bush administrations which battled family planning efforts because they saw them as Trojan horses for abortion rights.  Bush had co-authored a bill that established the first federal domestic planning program in the U.S. The Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970, Title X.  As President however George Bush sought to dismantle the very domestic family planning program he fought Congress to create.  Reagan-Bush Administrations reduced funds by $38 million to the program in 1981.  The Reagan Bush Administrations tried to eliminate Title X for 12 years.  So they passed the “gag rule” which prohibits all clinics receiving Title X money from giving abortion advice or counseling even if they request the information.

In light of the modification made by President Obama on the Birth Control issue Republican Senator Blunt issued this statement:

“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. President Obama believes that he should have that control. Our Constitution states otherwise.  Just because you can come up with an accounting gimmick and pretend like religious institutions do not have to pay for the mandate, does not mean that you’ve satisfied the fundamental constitutional freedoms that all Americans are guaranteed.  I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that we reverse this unconstitutional mandate in its entirety.”

He attached the amendment to the Federal Highway re-authorization bill that would repeal the mandate.  Senator Harry Reid objected, calling the debate senseless and urging Americans concerned about the issue to calm down.

Republican Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts weighed in on this issue by supporting Republican Senator Blunts proposal that would allow either employers or insurers to deny any health coverage they find morally objectionable.  However Massachusetts already requires insurers to carry contraceptive coverage for women and Brown voted for the provision as a member of the Massachusetts Assembly on Jan 30, 2002.

The Blunt amendment reads:

(6) RESPECTING RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE WITH REGARD TO SPECIFIC ITEMS OR SERVICES —

“(A) FOR HEALTH PLANS. — A health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package described in subsection (a) (or preventive health services described in section 2713 of the Public Health Services Act), to fail to be a qualified health plan, or to fail to fulfill any other requirement under this title on the basis that 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; or

“(ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.

That means that if your employer or insurance carrier objects on “moral grounds” to:

  • Cancer Screenings
  • Diabetes Treatments
  • STD Screenings including HIV/AIDS

They can deny testing and treatments for those items.

National Women’s Law Center explains that the language is vague enough that:

“insurers may be able to sell plans that do not cover services required by the new health care law to an entire market because one individual objects, so all consumers in a market lose their right to coverage of the full range of critical health services.  As a result, a man purchasing an insurance plan offered to women and men could object to maternity coverage, so the plan would not have to cover it, even though such coverage is required as part of the essential health benefits.”

Elizabeth Warren stated:

“I am shocked that Senator Brown jumped in to support such an extreme measure.  This is an all new attack on health care. Any insurance company could leave anyone without health care, just when they need it most. This is an extreme attack on every one of us.  It opens the door to outright discrimination. It would let insurance companies and corporations cut off pregnant women, overweight guys, older Americans, or anyone — because some executive claims it’s part of his moral code. Maybe that wouldn’t happen, but I don’t want to take the chance.”

The Blunt Amendment has 37 Co-Sponsors all of them Republican.

Patty Murray Democrat from Washington has stated about the bill:

“It is extreme. It is dangerous.  It puts politics between women and their healthcare.”

Missouri is pushing for a bill that is similar.  It would allow employers to bypass for religious reasons insurance coverage for birth control, abortions and sterilizations.  The bill is moving to the full Missouri Senate for consideration.

Santorum told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference:

Interestingly enough, here is what they are forcing them to do — in an insurance policy, they are forcing them to pay for something that costs just a few dollars. Is that what insurance is for? The foundational idea that we have the government tells you that you have to pay for everything as a business. Things that are not really things you need insurance for, and still forcing on something that is not a critical economic need, when you have an economic distress, where you would need insurance. But forcing them even more to do it for minor expenses.

The actual costs involved are:

  1. Initial visit to provider:  $35 to $250.
  2. Cost of a month supply of pills: $15 and $50 a month

Some prescriptions for birth control and contraceptives cost a lot more than that.

Santorum has pledged to repeal all funding for contraception claiming that birth control devalues the act of procreation.  He stated:

“One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.  It’s not okay.  It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Back in 2001 six Republican Senators Co-Sponsored a Federal Contraception Mandate that required all employers to cover contraception in their group health plans.  They added in a “conscience clause” similar to Maine’s law.  The language of which is similar to the conscious protection included in Obama’s regulation.

According to Polipulse the conversation online about the Contraception Issue breaks down:

  • Not a big deal: 28%
  • Catholic Church Influence President of the U.S. 23%
  • GOP Targeting Women: 17%
  • Obama Attacking Religion: 17%
  • Support Contraception Access: 15%

The volume of online conversation for Feb 14, 2012 breaks down as follows:

  • Jobs and the Economy: 35%
  • Defense and Military: 25%
  • Energy and Environment: 19%
  • Health Care: 11%
  • Education: 10%

Over the past 30 days the order, and percentages, have remained similar.

Links in article


[i] United States Constitution (http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Am1)

[iv] From the Oregonian Friday July 23, 1999 Praying Over Ailing Children Won’t Be Enough Under Bill (http://blog.oregonlive.com/clackamascounty/2008/03/post.html)

[v] Vaccination Requirements and Exemptions (http://www.vaccineethics.org/issue_briefs/requirements.php)

[vii] Sioux City Bishop Calls For Christians To ‘Violently Oppose’ ‘Evil’ Birth Control Rule (http://thinkprogress.org/health/issue/?mobile=nc)

[xiv] Misleading America on Family Values and Population: The Two Faces of George Bush (http://www.population-security.org/sier-92-07.htm)

[xv] Senator Blunt’s Response to President Obama’s Remarks on HHS Mandate (http://blunt.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/news?ID=4af10336-1867-472f-a3a1-0bd985a86ce4)

[xvii] Exclusive: As State Rep, Scott Brown Voted for Contraception Mandate Stronger Than Obama’s (http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/02/14/424833/exclusive-as-state-rep-scott-brown-voted-for-contraception-mandate-similar-to-obamas/)

[xix] GOP Ups the Ante, Introduces Legislation To Allow Any Employer To Deny Any Preventative Health Service (http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/02/10/423346/gop-ups-the-ante-introduces-legislation-to-allow-any-employer-to-deny-any-preventive-health-service/)

[xxi] S. 1467 Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011 (http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s112-1467)

[xxii] Dems Rebuke GOP for trying to attach birth-control exemption to highway bill (http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/other/210587-boxer-slams-possible-birth-control-amendment-to-highway-bill)

[xxiv] Santorum: Birth Control is not something ‘you need insurance for’ because it costs ‘just a few dollars’ (http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/02/10/423018/santorum-birth-control-is-not-something-you-need-insurance-for-because-it-costs-just-a-few-dollars/)

[xxv] BirthControlbuzz.com Pricing for Birth Control Pills (http://www.birthcontrolbuzz.com/index.aspx)

[xxvi] Rick Santorum Interviews with Caffeinated Thoughts.com (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KN7WfIZh690&feature=youtube_gdata)

[xxvii] Six Republican Senators–Including Snowe and Collins–Co-Sponsored Federal Contraception Mandate in 2001 (http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/02/08/421512/six-republican-senators-including-snowe-and-collins-co-sponsored-federal-contraception-mandate-in-2001/)

[xxviii] Plurality say Obama’s health care policy was no big deal (http://polipulse.com/?monitor=0#)

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