WASHINGTON (BP) — The head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has urged United States senators to support a bill that would protect conscience rights in the Obama administration’s controversial contraceptive/abortion mandate.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), encouraged 20 senators in a Feb. 28 letter to back the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, S. 1467. The Senate is expected to take action on the measure Thursday (March 2).
It appears there will be a vote on a motion to table the legislation, which has been offered as Senate Amendment 1520 to a transportation bill, S. 1813, according to the ERLC. Senators who support the measure, which is sponsored by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, will vote “no” on the motion to table.
The mandate requires all health insurance plans to cover contraceptives and sterilizations as preventive services without cost to employees but does not provide adequate protection for the religious freedom and conscience rights of employers, according to the ERLC and other pro-life and religious freedom organizations. The contraceptives, as designated by the federal government, include drugs — such as “ella” and the “morning-after” pill Plan B — that can cause abortions by acting after fertilization.
President Obama announced Feb. 10 an accommodation that he said protects religious organizations by making insurance companies responsible for paying for contraceptives and sterilization. Critics contended his solution was insufficient. Some described it as an “accounting gimmick” that would still require religious organizations to be complicit in paying for employees’ abortion-causing contraceptives through their insurance companies.
In urging the senators to support Blunt’s proposal, Land said the president’s “so-called compromise” is “not a solution.”
“Religious employers and faith-based insurance plans will still be forced to provide abortion-causing products in their health care plans, and pro-life people of faith will still be paying for these products indirectly through their insurance premiums,” Land wrote. “For many people of faith, this requirement is abhorrent. It forces them to choose between their religious convictions about when human life begins and providing health care for themselves, their families, or their employees.
“While the offense to us is about abortion, the dominant issue is the government’s determination to violate citizens’ constitutionally-protected right to freedom of conscience,” Land said.
Blunt’s amendment would protect religious organizations from being forced to cover a service that is “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor.”
Land’s letter was sent to Republicans and Democrats who had not yet officially joined the list of cosponsors or who were considered open to an appeal, according to the ERLC.
The Republicans who received the letter were Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Dean Heller of Nevada, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Mike Lee of Utah and Olympia Snowe of Maine.
The Democrats who received the letter were Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, and Mark Warner and Jim Webb, both of Virginia.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.