“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., relented on Tuesday and now says he’ll allow a Senate vote on an amendment that would reverse the White House’s controversial requirement that all insurers provide birth control free of charge to women. The proposal put forward last week by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would exempt employers from providing any care they find immoral.
“It’s unlikely to pass the Senate, and Reid blocked the vote last week. But he gave in on Tuesday, providing a potential opportunity for his fellow Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska (a cosponsor of Blunt’s amendment), Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to go on the record with their opposition to the contraception mandate…
“Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Blunt’s proposal could lead to effects far beyond contraception. ‘If I believe that prayer should cure all disease, that’s my belief, and I’m an employer, I can deny coverage for any life-saving intervention,’ Boxer said at a news conference on Tuesday.”
“‘Let’s be clear about what’s at stake,’ said Carney. ‘The proposal being considered in the Senate applies to all employers — not just religious employers. And it isn’t limited to contraception. Any employer could restrict access to any service they say they object to. That is dangerous and it is wrong. Decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss.’
“The measure, proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) would amend the Affordable Care Act to allow any employer to exclude any health service coverage, no matter how critical or basic, by claiming that it violates their religious or moral convictions. Moreover, according to the National Women’s Law Center, the amendment would remove critical non-discrimination protections from the Affordable Care Act. For instance, an insurer could deny maternity care coverage to a same-sex couple, an interracial couple or a single woman for religious or moral reasons.’…
“‘This is a terrible vote for them,’ said a Senate Democratic aide, explaining why Reid relented. ‘We are thrilled at the prospect about spending as much time as possible talking about this vote. They are caught between their base and a hard place.'”
“Obama’s revised rule appears to have won over Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Both had called for changes to the original rule despite their support in the past for a bill with a similar objective.
“‘It appears that changes have been made that provide women’s health services without compelling Catholic organizations in particular to violate the beliefs and tenets of their faith,’ Snowe said in a statement. ‘According to the Catholic Health Association, the administration ‘responded to the issues [they] identified that needed to be fixed,’ which is what I urged the president to do in addressing this situation.”
“‘While I will carefully review the details of the president’s revised proposal, it appears to be a step in the right direction,’ Collins said in a statement. ‘The administration’s original plan was deeply flawed and clearly would have posed a threat to religious freedom. It presented the Catholic Church with its wide-ranging social, educational, and health care services, and many other faith-based organizations, with an impossible choice between violating their religious beliefs or violating federal regulations. The administration has finally listened to the concerns raised by many and appears to be seeking to avoid the threat to religious liberties posed by its original plan.'”
“Catholics’ views of President Obama were little changed during a week in which the administration battled publicly with Catholic leaders over whether church-affiliated employers should have to pay for contraception as part of their employees’ health plans.”
“Catholic bishops, energized by a battle over contraception funding, are planning an aggressive campaign to rally Americans against a long list of government measures which they say intrude on religious liberty…
“On the federal level, the Obama administration has cancelled or threatened to cancel contracts awarded to Catholic charities for work to prevent HIV and to help victims of sex trafficking. The administration says the charities have to provide services such as condoms, emergency contraception and abortion referrals to maintain the contracts; the charities protest that such conditions violate their religious faith.
“Several states, meanwhile, have required adoption agencies that receive public funds to treat same-sex couples on par with any other prospective foster or adoptive parent. Catholic Charities object, saying the church doesn’t sanction gay and lesbian relationships. Rather than comply with the laws, bishops in Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington D.C. have shut down Catholic adoption agencies.
“The bishops portray this as an out-and-out war on free exercise of religion.”
“Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he trusted Obama wasn’t anti-religious and intended to make good on his pledge to work with religious groups to fine-tune the mandate.
“‘I want to take him at his word,’ Dolan said in Rome, where he will be made a cardinal Saturday. But he stressed: “I do have to say it’s getting harder and harder,’ to believe Obama’s claim to prioritize religious freedom issues given the latest controversy…
“Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said the main concern is that the so-called ‘choking mandates’ remain. In addition many Catholic entities are self-insured. It remains unclear how they would get around the mandate to provide services that they consider morally illicit.
“‘Was what was intended to be a concession, and what gave us a glimmer of hope at the beginning … really just amount to a hill of beans? And it seems as if it does,’ Dolan said.”
“Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate, said Tuesday afternoon that he doesn’t know if President Obama’s revised contraception mandate violates the religious liberty of self-insured religious institutions, such as some hospitals, universities, and the Catholic church in Washington, D.C.
“‘That is the remaining question in my mind–the risk plans, the self-insured,’ Durbin told THE WEEKLY STANDARD following the Senate Democrats weekly luncheon. ‘I want to know how they’re treated. I’ve asked that.’…
“Durbin said he doesn’t know what, if anything, needs to be done to protect self-insured religious institutions. ‘I don’t know. I need to know the answer,’ he said. ‘The same question’s been raised to me, and I don’t know.'”
“Obama has made clear who is part of his ideological coalition and who is not. Discussions on the structure and restructuring of the contraceptive policy were conducted between the administration and pro-choice and feminist groups. The institutions targeted by the mandate — particularly those represented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — were not in the room. The administration engaged in no substantive consultation with Catholic bishops, who were only called to receive pronouncements. Interest-group liberalism is alive and well in the Obama White House…
“[W]ith a single miscalculation, Obama has managed to unite economic and social conservatives in outrage against government activism and energize religious conservatives in a way Mitt Romney could never manage. Culture-war debates in America are evenly divided. But the objects of culture-war aggression do not easily forget.
“If Obama is playing a political chess game, he has just sacrificed his queen, a rook and all his bishops. It would have to be a deep game indeed.”
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