The U.S. Senate will consider legislation on Thursday that would prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from forcing religious employers and insurers from being forced to violate their constitutionally-protected beliefs.
The so-called “Blunt Amendment,” named for its sponsor, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), seeks to preserve the longstanding conscience protections in the face of HHS’s decision to move forward with a rule that would require religious employers to fully fund contraception for their employees, even if doing so would violate their religious views.
The mandate “is only the beginning of the problems Americans will continue to see as the Obamacare ‘essential benefits’ package takes shape,” explained Heritage’s Jennifer Marshall. “The anti-conscience mandate is a warning sign for us all of how one-size-fits-all health care requirements will trample religious liberty as well as individual liberty.”
Blunt’s amendment states:
Nothing in this title (or any amendment made by this title) shall be construed to require an individual or institutional health care provider, or authorize a health plan to require a provider, to provide, participate in, or refer for a specific item or service contrary to the provider’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled on Tuesday that he would bring the amendment to the Senate floor for consideration on Thursday.
“I believe this process with the most constructive way to move the bill forward,” Reid said on the Senate floor, referring to the transportation funding package to which the amendment would be attached. Blunt thanked Reid for agreeing to consider “my bipartisan amendment to protect religious freedom.”
Blunt discussed the amendment in an interview with the Heritage Foundation last week. “We want to be sure we’ve established the principle here that the Constitution establishes — that President Washington understood and President Jefferson understood, and my guess is, every president between them and right now understood — and that is respect for conscience is respect for religious freedom,” he said.
The language of Blunt’s amendment is similar to language offered in the past by prominent Democrats looking to shore up religious freedom. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), for insteance, introduced this language in his Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed by both Houses of Congress and signed into law:
A health care provider or a health facility shall not be required to provide an item or service under a group health plan or health insurance coverage if the provider or facility objects to doing so on the basis of a religious belief or moral conviction.
The 1993 health care bill offered by President Clinton also included conscience protections similar to those in the Blunt amendment.
Nothing in this title shall be construed to…prevent any employer from contributing to the purchase of a standard benefits package which excludes coverage of abortion or other services, if the employer objects to such services on the basis of a religious belief or moral conviction;