Sen. Claire McCaskill refused Thursday to join her colleague Sen. Roy Blunt in protecting rights of conscience in the new health care law. By a vote of 51 to 48, Sen. McCaskill voted to set aside an amendment by Sen. Blunt to protect the rights of employers to provide health plans in accord with their moral and religious convictions.
Three Democrats – Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska crossed sides and voted with Republicans to support the amendment.
Opponents of the Blunt amendment claimed it would offer an excuse for employers to drop their employees’ health coverage. Sen. Blunt countered that his proposal would simply reiterate conscience protections that had long been in federal law before the new health law was passed. He decried “blatant attempts to frighten and mislead Americans” about the measure.
“I believe what this does is protect First Amendment rights. The first freedom in the founding documents is freedom of religion,” Blunt said during the debate. “Suddenly, we have all these reasons why people can’t make faith decisions that relate to providing health care to employees. I disagree with that.”
Speaking on behalf of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chair of the bishops’ committee on religious liberty, vowed that the Church would continue to pursue all legal means to overturn the federal mandate that requires religious employers and others to pay for abortion drugs, contraceptives and sterilization.