by Max Brantley
Three cheers for U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor. He apparently will not be spooked by the Republican claque into voting for a terrible bill to give employers leeway to deny any sort of medical service they find objectionable. It's about overturning President Obama's order that preventive health care for women be included, at insurance company cost, in all health plans, including contraception. Sen. John "Dr. No" Boozman says yes, for once — to religion-based deprivation of women's access to good health care.
Republicans have cooked up a bogus religious freedoms argument. They want to cram religion down the throats of Americans, including the 98 percent of Catholic women who use birth control both to prevent pregnancy and to treat a variety of medical conditions.
Pryor says the Blunt amendment is too broadly written. Fact is, Blunt and Arkansas's Republican congressmen, who've sponsored similar measures, simply aim to make contraception as hard for women to obtain as abortion is becoming. Pryor is right. This conscience exemption is so broadly written it could open all kinds of nightmarish scenarios (beginning with no Viagra for the men pushing their agenda on women). Sex is just for procreation, right. It offends morality to provide medicine to old fogeys for fornication.
Pryor, not the Republicans, are in the mainstream here. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes this measure because of its attack on preventive health. Others oppose it because it would return health care to a time when employers could deny all sorts of coverage in the name of cost. They could claim moral objection to all of it. Opponents include March of Dimes, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Association of Maternal & Child Health Program, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Easter Seals and on and on. Says a letter signed by these and other organizations:
Senate Amendment 1520 threatens to undermine crucial clinical and preventive health services by allowing plans, employers, providers, and beneficiaries to refuse coverage for any service currently required under Section 2713 of the Public Health Service Act and Section 1302 of the Public Health Service Act, if deemed objectionable to them on moral or religious grounds. The Amendment would give expansive and explicit license to any employer, health plan, provider, or beneficiary to exclude any health service from insurance coverage. For instance, a small employer or health plan could ban maternity care for women due to religious convictions regarding out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Likewise, a health plan or small employer that objects to childhood immunizations, newborn screening for life-threatening genetic disorders, other components of well-child visits, or prenatal care would be fully within the law to deny coverage for any and all of these vital services.
Even a number of Republicans aren't happy about this proposal. Arkansas Republicans, however, march in rigid lockstep to the narrow dictates of the party's message masters. They think a bunch of men who don't want women to have birth control pills can play the church card to demonize cost-saving, even life-saving, legislation. Can they do it again? Do women of the 2nd District really support Tim Griffin for his willingness to deny them important health coverage?