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In case you’ve missed it the last couple of weeks, Scott Brown has mysteriously found his line in the sand to wrap his reelection around, and it’s by signing on as a cosigner to the Blunt amendment, which reads (bold mine so we can remark on it later):
A health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package described in subsection (a) … on the basis that it declines to provide coverage of specific items or services because— (i) providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or (ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.
Someone in Brown’s campaign (or maybe Brown himself) thinks this is good for him to do in the context of a heated reelection campaign, somehow. I mean, as dumb as this move seems to most sane people, there has to be some sort of strategy here. After all, the Blunt amendment has little chance of passage; if this is just about Brown having a real, honest-to-goodness bout of personal conscience, he could have privately told Blunt he’d vote for it, or held his views close to the chest, since I doubt very highly the amendment is going anywhere. But he decided to cosign onto it ahead of it ever coming up for a vote.
This indicates, whatever he personally feels (and of course, this position of his is a direct flip flop for him so I hardly believe this is a conscientious stance), that he or someone in his camp thinks it’s a winner electorally.
I am thinking it might be a strategy regarding the high concentration of Catholics in our state (due to our Irish, Italian, and even Quebecois heritage). If so, it’s not a deep look into the Catholic vote in our state, or an understanding of the Catholic electorate. Appeasing the bishops isn’t much of a strategy if you can’t get the bulk of church-attending jus’ folk to buy in. And while the vast vast majority of Catholics, even conservative Catholics, disagree with the Church’s stand on birth control (and indeed, most actually use it), perhaps there are some who would believe that the government has no right to force the Church to cover something it doesn’t believe in.
Of course, you’d also have to imagine that this imaginary segment of the Catholic population, if it exists, are not already party-line-voting Republicans. And that he doesn’t already have the vote of any socially conservative Protestant constituent.
But beyond this, we all know, and the storyline around this has been, that the Blunt amendment is right in line with, specifically, attacking a woman’s right to access birth control - along the lines of the reprehensible Virginia legislature and NH’s attack on funding for Planned Parenthood to provide non-abortion services for poor women, like a sliding fee scale for birth control prescriptions (a program I personally am familiar with from my early adult years). Wrapped in the mantle of “religious freedom,” it is first and only about controlling women’s uteri, and the religious right’s need to punish women who have sex outside of procreation.
Never mind that the thousands of non-Catholics that work at Church-run hospitals and other services organizations would be having their religious freedom (as in, freedom from it) infringed upon. Never mind the 90%+ of Catholic laity who use birth control, who happen to work for a Catholic hospital or university, are presumably people who would want the same fair access to their necessary birth control that their non-Catholic-employed colleagues get. Never mind that these services provided via Church-run organizations are heavily subsidized with federal and state dollars (Medicare, Medicaid, and other funds). Never mind that for at least a decade, many states (including MA) already mandated coverage for all organizations that are church-run except for the core church itself. All this, a thinking person can see quite plainly.
But beyond this is a total misinterpretation of plain English (or really, a refusal to use common sense!) when it comes to the actual language of the Blunt amendment. To quote the Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya: “I dunna think it means wah you think it means.”
This exchange with NECN’s Jim Braude, if you missed it, is like comedy gold, except of course for the very serious implications for the mental capacity of this sitting US Sentator…because you see, the amendment is very open ended and vague as to who and what can be “objected to.” Under it, any employer (not just a church-run service org) can have a moral objection to a procedure and not have to cover it.
So one could easily imagine scenarios where a Scientology-run service org, or hell, a Scientologist private business owner, denies mental health coverage because they believe that psychiatry is involved in worldwide conspiracies and that it’s the tool of evil aliens:
The Church of Scientology teaches a “Space Opera” history of the universe to Scientologists graded at the level of Operating Thetan and above. Events are told of which allegedly happened billions and even trillions of years ago (contradicting science’s estimated age of the universe), in which psychiatry was a tool of oppression used by evil alien civilizations.
Or maybe a business owned by a Jehovah’s Witness will decline to cover such basic staples of medicine as blood transfusions.
These are not even off-the-wall scenarios. They are quite easily covered by the “moral convictions” clause of the Blunt amendment. Not only that, but this is not limited to religious convictions or churches running an adoption center or a school or a hospital.
But Brown doesn’t see, or want to admit, any of these obvious plain English interpretations of the amendment. His only answer to Braude, pressing him on scenarios? “Bottom line, if anything like that happened in Massachusetts, people would obviously be sued and those types of things.” So in other words, if passed and people actually tried to use this law to do anything other than to deny covering women’s birth control, then the outrage and lawsuits would stop it? That’s not exactly comforting, to enact a law that is so vague, you have to rely on public outcry to curb the abuses it legalizes.
This whole debate really has me questioning his intelligence, and the advice he’s getting. I knew he was an empty suit but I never expected it to be so obvious. If he can’t reason through the very obvious implications of this Blunt amendment, then there is no way he should retain his seat in the US Senate. Notwithstanding his past support for the opposite clauses in Massachusetts!
What he hasn’t explained – because, so far, there’s been no mainstream media coverage of it that I’ve seen – is why, in 2002, he voted for a state mandate requiring health care plans to provide coverage for “hormone replacement therapy for peri and post menopausal women and for outpatient prescription contraceptive drugs or devices.” There is a “conscience” exemption in that law, but it is basically limited to churches and church-run elementary and secondary schools. It notably does not include church-affiliated universities or hospitals. And there is absolutely no exemption for someone’s “moral convictions.”
So, in conclusion…this is a perfect storm of stupidity. First, a lack of plain common sense reading comprehension regarding the dangerous language of an amendment he himself signed onto. There’s the fact that the Obama ruling is exactly what he’s voted on in the past, and from the practical electoral view, this is of questionable appeal to even Catholic independents and Democrats that he needs the votes of to get reelected. The amendment was certainly intended to be anti-women in a difficult year for Republicans even in red states; but in a blue state, a total gimme for Brown’s opponent. Even conservative papers in Massachusetts are calling this a dumb move.
None of this adds up to anything but a very poor decision, be it on an actual moral conviction (the moralness does not stand upon examination - if you are going to provide public services, then you need to abide by the public’s rules) nor on an electoral strategy.
To fall back to another Princess Bride quote, “Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.”
Bonus round: Brown has a hard time with voters at his stop in Dracut, particularly from a student who could be directly affected by the Blunt amendment:
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