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Top Dem Warns of New Menace in Obamacare Fight: Christian Scientist Shoe Salesmen

Blunt-Nelson bill would restore conscience protections that existed before Obamacare.

11:05 AM, Feb 15, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Yesterday, I asked Senator Dick Durbin if he thinks Obamacare's contraception/abortifacient mandate still violates the religious liberty of Catholic churches, like the Archdiocese of Washington. Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said he didn't know. But Durbin said he did know one thing: The bill being offered in the Senate by Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri (and co-sponsored by Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska) to protect religious liberty and rights of conscience from Obamacare goes too far.

Senator Dick Durbin.

Senator Dick Durbin.

"The Blunt approach is, I think, entirely overreaching," Durbin said. "You know, a Christian Science owner of a running shoe store could decide no health insurance."

"Wasn't that the law prior to the health care bill?" I asked.

Durbin didn't reply and walked away. 

Many Democrats and liberals like Durbin have been sounding the alarm about the "Blunt amendment," officially known as the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. Mother Jones's Adam Serwer and ThinkProgress' Igor Volsky warn, for example, that the bill would let insurers or employers deny treatment or screenings for HIV/AIDS patients.

But there are a few things Democrats never mention when they raise these frightening hypothetical scenarios. First, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act applies solely to Obamacare. It would merely restore conscience protections that Americans had prior to its passage. It does not affect any other state or federal regulations. 

Can Democrats cite real examples of Christian businessmen denying AIDS treatment or screenings prior to Obamacare's passage? No, they can't. Because that never happened. (Though you can find countless examples of Christians setting up ministries specifically devoted to providing care to AIDS patients.) Furthermore, the conscience bill would not let employers decide by themselves to ban coverage of specific services. If an employer wanted to target AIDS victims who work for him, he would have to find an insurance company that specifically denied treatment for AIDS. Does such an insurance company exist in the United States of America?

The conscience bill does not specify which of Obamacare's mandatory services Americans may find morally or religiously objectionable because Obamacare does not specify which "preventive services" employers and insurers may be forced to cover "free of charge." A broad conscience protection is needed to counter a broad, unchecked authority granted to the secretary of Health and Human Services by Obamacare. For example, there is nothing in the health care law preventing Secretary Sebelius from mandating that private insurers fund abortion on demand "free of charge."

For that matter, there's nothing in the law that prevents Secretary Sebelius from ruling by fiat that medicinal marijuana or sex-change operations must be covered "free of charge." Granted, it's about as unlikely that Sebelius would mandate medicinal marijuana as it is that Christian business owners would deny coverage to AIDS victims. But if you want to take seriously the absurd hypothetical scenarios raised by Democrats, you should indulge their absurd counterparts.

Another point raised by some liberals (see Elizabeth Warren's remarks yesterday) is that greedy insurance companies will use this amendment as a loophole to save money by denying coverage for expensive care. But that charge is patently false. The bill explicitly allows the federal government to prohibit insurance companies from engaging in such practices. It allows HHS to require the "aggregate actuarial value" of insurance plans that exclude morally objectionable services to be "at least equivalent to that of plans at the same level of coverage that do not exclude such items or services." 

As for Durbin's concern that a Christian Scientist shoe salesman might not offer insurance to his employees: So what? Christian Scientists are already granted a religious exemption from Obamacare's mandate that individuals must purchase health care. Why do Senator Durbin and President Obama want to force Christian Scientist business owners to violate their consciences? Aren't Christian Scientist shoe salesmen free to pay their employees in dollars rather than health care benefits?

It's clear that the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act has led both Democrats and Republicans to agree about one thing: The fight is no longer about contraception. It's not even a fight narrowly about religious liberty. It's a much broader fight about Obamcare's mandates and liberty.

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