Bosses of Conscience

It hasn’t gotten a lot of national attention, but the battle over contraception coverage in employer-sponsored health insurance plans may be shifting in a subtle way from the context of religiously-oriented institutions like Catholic hospitals or charities to employers in general. It’s already the position of Senate Republicans, who almost unanimously backed Roy Blunt’s amendment to give any employer claiming a moral objection to contraception a pass on providing it to employees. And now in Blunt’s home state, Missouri, the Republican-controlled legislature has sent a bill to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon defying federal law in the pursuit of this expanded notion of a “conscience clause.”

As Think Progress’ Amanda Peterson Beadle reports, one Missouri legislator is pushing back in the appropriate way:

[S]tate Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the bill endangering women’s access to health care was more of an attack on “women’s reproductive choices” than a message to the federal government. “This is wrong and I dare you to go home and talk to your daughters … and say, ‘Look, what we’re going to say is that your employers’ religious beliefs matter more than your own.”

Republicans have already gone out on a limb in the past by championing “pharmacists of conscience” who may look sternly across the counter at some young woman without a wedding ring who’s trying to fill a birth control prescription and assert a right to refuse to cooperate in her harlotry. But however you feel about pharmacists second-guessing one’s moral or religious character, “the boss” is often a less than sympathetic figure whose interest in denying employees insurance benefits would not universally be assumed as stemming from high-minded motives. Rep. Newman is onto a potentially fruitful line of inquiry.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.