.- An amendment to ensure that a religious exemption would be included in the federal health care overhaul was killed by a narrow margin in the U.S. Senate on March 1.
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who introduced the amendment, said that he was âtruly disappointedâ with the vote and vowed that he would continue working to defend religious freedom.
âThis fight is not over,â he stated.
âThe need to defend citizensâ rights of conscience is the most critical issue before our country right now,â said Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who heads the U.S. Catholic bishopsâ religious liberty committee.
He vowed to continue working to âbuild on this base of supportâ and defend conscience rights âthrough all available legal means.â
The Senate voted 51-48 to âtableâ the proposed amendment, effectively killing it by preventing an up-or-down vote on the amendment itself. The move was made possible by the vote of multiple Catholic Democrats to defeat the legislation.
The discussion and vote came only after overcoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reidâs (D-Nev.) procedural attempt to block the Blunt amendment, which he called âsenseless.â
The proposed amendment would have allowed health care providers to opt out of providing coverage that violates their âreligious beliefs or moral convictions.â
Blunt argued that his amendment was necessary to protect the First Amendment guarantees of religion freedom against the demands of the Obama administrationâs contraception and sterilization mandate.
The federal mandate requires employers to purchase insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, even if doing so violates their conscience.
Both religious and secular groups voiced strong objections to the mandate. In response, President Barack Obama announced a Feb. 10 âaccommodationâ for religious freedom. Instead of having employers directly purchase the controversial coverage, the promised revision would require them to buy health care plans from insurance companies that would be required to offer the coverage for free.
Critics have argued that the proposed revised rule is insufficient to protect religious freedom, noting that insurance companies will likely pass the costs of the âfreeâ coverage on to employers in their premiums.
One day before the March 1 vote, Blunt noted that his amendment would not block âthe mandate itselfâ but merely ensure that religious providers have an exemption from it.
He also observed that the amendment did not directly mention âcontraceptionâ or any other procedure. He explained that it was ânot about a specific procedureâ but about âa faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees.â
By amending a transportation bill that was already up for debate in the Senate, Bluntâs legislation would have addressed concerns about the mandate immediately.
However, other legislative efforts to fight the mandate are still being considered, including the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which was introduced by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and has received the support of 219 cosponsors in the House of Representatives.
The U.S. bishops have joined numerous other groups and individuals in opposing the contraception mandate. They have called for legislation to repeal the mandate and defend religious freedom for Americans.
âReligious freedom is at the heart of democracy and rooted in the dignity of every human person,â said Bishop Lori. âWe will not rest until the protection of conscience rights is restored and the First Amendment is returned to its place of respect in the Bill of Rights.â
Tags: Contraception mandate