Editorial: Jonesing for Health Care

Do you know that if a piece of legislation recently adopted by the Missouri House becomes law, religious interests can successfully lobby all businesses to deny contraceptives to employees?

It’s true. What State Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka) has stated is intended to be a “shield” law and not a “sword” is exactly the latter. It gives those with a specific religious agenda an opening to put pressure on Missouri businesses to deny all sorts of procedures and medicines under their health insurance coverage.

What started as a national debate on conscience—that religious nonprofit entities shouldn’t have to provide services that violate their collective conscience—has turned into a flat-out offensive assault on behalf of conservative religious movements and institutions, mostly to the detriment of Missouri women.

As you may recall, we disagreed strongly that the Obama administration’s modified position on the contraception issue was an improper limitation on religious institutions. The administration agreed that any religious group could have whatever limitations it wanted regarding its own employees, but once it offered a health plan or services to the general public there should be no such limitation.

Several institutions tried to argue this was an imposition on the rights of religious nonprofits that had moral objections to such things as contraception. Never mind that some of these nonprofits are able to reap billions of dollars of revenue from customers outside their church or their belief system. And never mind that almost always a consumer is stuck with a particular health insurer because it’s who his employer has chosen.

The Jones bill (which isn’t the only one that’s made it through a chamber of the General Assembly) effectively enables any business whatsoever to exempt itself from the requirements of Missouri law for wide swaths of medical procedures and practices it deems violative of conscience. NOT, mind you, ANY matter of conscience—just those which happen to comport with medical practices and research deemed most offensive in certain culturally conservative corners, ranging from contraception to stem-cell therapies.

In other words, if you only have access to insurers and providers that agree with those views, and like most people you count on health insurance to cover your costs, then their view of morality now becomes your view of morality, assuming you’re not independently wealthy.

So under the law:

(1) A for-profit business that sells widgets now can carve out a so-called “conscience” exception to coverage offered to all employees because its owner has a so-called “sincere” conscientious objection.

(2) A Walgreens’s pharmacist can refuse to dispense birth control.

(3) Want your kid circumcised? Better be prepared to pay in full if your health care insurer has a “conscience” objection to the practice.

So much for shields. Shoot, so much for the obligation to provide health care in exchange for a public license.

Is this the way you want your state legislature to run—in other words, captive to a particular brand of religious convictions? Never mind that there’s probably a pretty good claim that such a law is unconstitutional. Aside from its validity, this bill represents an assault against everyone who disagrees with a particular brand of religious fundamentalism.

Last year we called out the Missouri legislature for voting on a needless, patently offensive and clearly unconstitutional law purporting to ban Muslim Sharia law as a basis for Missouri legislation. Now largely the same lot—who thought it was terrible that some other group that doesn’t happen to be theirs would impose their religious beliefs on everyone—want to impose their own religious beliefs on everyone.

What’s worse, they’re doing it in an intellectually fraudulent way, claiming they’re just seeking protection from the big, bad overreaching President. At least they could suck it up and admit what their agenda truly is.

If you think that this movement represents something that protects your religious interests, make no mistake—this is not an effort to protect religious freedom; it is an effort to impose a particular brand of religion upon everyone. To us, this isn’t religious freedom, it’s religious domination.

If you believe that both for-profits and nonprofits that serve the general public should, as a part of their state-issued license, be obligated to provide medical services that are determined by public policy to be safe and effective, you’ll speak up. Otherwise, once again Missouri will watch the rest of the world dart farther ahead while we remain stalled in the regressive trenches of the past.