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Birth control: What do bosses get to decide about us?

Sen. Roy Blunt
To read about the Blunt amendment, which was narrowly defeated Thursday via a U.S. Senate vote to table it, you'd think this was solely about whether religiously affiliated organizations -- such as hospitals or universities with links to churches -- have to provide health-insurance coverage for birth control.

Certainly, what kicked off the legislative move by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was the Obama administration's rule that they would indeed have to provide that coverage; that was later softened to an agreement under which the coverage would be available, but the insurance companies would pick up the cost, which they have said they're willing to do.

But the Blunt amendment would have gone much further. Any employer would be allowed to refrain from any mandated coverage under healthcare reform if it offended the owners' religious or moral beliefs. That includes screening for sexually transmitted diseases and a load of other generally accepted and important care.

Certainly, if a university that has ties to Catholicism can refuse to offer birth-control coverage, it's hard to imagine why the owner of an auto-parts store who might have equally strong religious beliefs shouldn't get the same break. Which gets to the essential question at the heart of this thinking: What do our bosses get to decide about our lives? Supporters of Blunt might say that people are entitled to buy whatever they want as long as the employer isn't paying for it, but that didn't make much of a difference when the insurance companies were willing to pick up the tab.

The argument that employers shouldn't have to spend their money in support of activities to which they have moral objections has some serious implications, if you take it down the road for a spin. Most employers offer some paid vacation to full-time employees. What if the employee spends that time doing something the employer finds morally objectionable -- say, working to defeat Proposition 8, or working to defend it? Why should the employer have to subsidize that activity?

It's an extreme example, of course. But when you consider the narrowness of the vote taken in the Senate, it's worth wondering the extent to which the Blunt philosophy would hand moral judgments about private decisions to employers.

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Photo: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) speaks on the Senate floor before a vote on his amendment dealing with contraceptives on Thursday. Credit: CSPAN.org

 

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