WASHINGTON D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a leading senate conservative, today voted in favor of the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” amendment offered by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The amendment and Blunt’s stand alone bill (S.1467) are designed to restore first amendment rights to religious organizations as it relates to the Obamacare regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would require employers to provide contraceptive services to its employees. The Senate ultimately voted to table the amendment with today’s vote.
“I am disappointed that the Senate today failed to protect religious freedoms,” said Inhofe. “The language that Senator Blunt has offered to protect those freedoms is similar to language that has been offered in the past by Senators Moynihan, Kennedy, and Schumer. Yet today, this issue has been turned into a partisan one. The fact is, this amendment would have preserved religious freedom and maintained the pre-Obamacare status quo. I will continue to work with my colleagues to protect first amendment rights as it relates to this and ultimately repeal and replace Obamacare.”
About the Blunt Amendment
The amendment does not require insurers or employers to accommodate moral or religious objections. It simply leaves sponsors, purchasers and insurers free to negotiate a health plan without governmental officials using Obamacare regulations to force one result. In this respect it simply leaves federal law where it was before enactment of Obamacare. It seeks to protect health care providers and insurers, including purchasers such as small businesses, from being forced to violate their ethical principles to cover or fund products and services under the new health overhaul bill. It also seeks to protect health care stakeholders against discrimination, penalty, or exclusion from the health care market, as defined in the health care overhaul, for exercising their rights of conscience, and includes protection for faith-based health plans.
How does the amendment affect the conscience rights of pharmacists or other health providers?
It states that Obamacare’s new requirements for ensuring ready “access” to health benefits will not be used to force such providers to violate their consciences. It does not affect any requirements created by private entities such as employers, or by other state or federal laws.
Could this amendment be misused by purchasers or insurers to “opt out” of expensive procedures to save money, by claiming a moral objection?
No. It explicitly allows HHS to ensure that all plans maintain an actuarial value equivalent to that of a plan that includes all mandated benefits.
Could the amendment be misused to deny coverage for life-saving health care to patients who are elderly or disabled, by claiming a moral or religious conviction?
No. Obamacare’s existing language against such discriminatory “quality of life” medical decisions is explicitly applied to this new provision.
Would the amendment reduce people’s access to much-needed health care?
No. It only preserves accommodations of conscience that were routinely exercised under federal law before Obamacare. The real danger is that, without this bill, churches and others that now provide quality health coverage for their employees may be forced by the federal government to choose between providing coverage, and obeying their own deeply held convictions of conscience. Many may feel forced to stop providing coverage, thus reducing access to health care.