Last week, the ability to control our fertility nearly careened over a cliff when the Blunt Amendment came up for a vote in the U.S. Senate. Sponsors of the Amendment were angered by the impending rule requiring insurers to provide contraception, sterilization, and other health services to women when their employers objected on religious grounds. The bill they drafted allowed any employer to refuse to provide insurance coverage for any treatment to which the employer had a moral or conscience objection. Impassioned debate from the floor of the U.S. Senate was heard from those railing against the “war on women” and others invoking the right to religious freedom. It was quite the drama.
Certainly, the drafters had Catholic hospitals and universities in mind, and their opposition to contraception, tubal ligation, or other preventive services for women’s health. However, if passed, the bill would have extended to every employer the power to ban insurance coverage for any treatment it could claim a religious objection to, such as routine children’s vaccines or mammograms, chemotherapy, or treatment for obesity. In essence, the boss would be the gatekeeper between the worker and access to medical care. The Administration’s requirement, part of the health care reforms phasing in over the next two years, is trampling the Constitutional right to free expression of religion by the federal government, according to the Amendment’s supporters.
In the end, 48 Senators voted for it and 51 voted to table the Amendment. Only three votes stopped the progress of the bill. Had the Blunt Amendment become law, millions of women in employer-sponsored health plans would find themselves paying out of pocket for oral contraceptives even when taken for other purposes, like controlling endometriosis, menstrual disorders or migraine headaches. Sterilization procedures, like a tubal ligation or hysterectomy, could not be covered even if needed because of a medical problem unrelated to contraception. This is no small matter, especially considering that the cost of medical care in the U.S. is far higher than better and more comprehensive care available in other countries.
While motherhood is wonderful, it is not the all-consuming ambition of every woman. Being able to choose where, when, and with whom one becomes a mother matters tremendously to the well-being of women, their children, communities and our society. Only since contraceptives became widely available has women’s educational attainment risen, and with it their potential economic security. Women’s health is better, and their children’s health is better too, when their pregnancies can be fewer and farther apart. It’s worth noting that 61% of women terminating their pregnancies in the U.S. already have at least one child. Half of all pregnancies are unintended. Controlling fertility is a private decision with considerable public consequences.
The Blunt Amendment is a terrible idea. At a stroke, it deprives women of the ability to determine whether or not to assume the ultimate obligation to another human being. No man, no law, and no church should ever exercise that power.
Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington