The Good Steward | Senator McCaskill fails to stand up for religious liberty

Last month I wrote to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and asked her to support legislation introduced by her colleague, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), to defend religious liberty. The occasion was, of course, the Obama Administration's decision to retain the HHS mandate that requires all health insurance providers to include contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and other so-called preventive services in their plans regardless of the conscientious objection of the Catholic Church, many other religious groups and people of good will who object to this intrusive mandate.

Sen. McCaskill did not join with those who view the Obama administration's action as a threat to religious liberty. She is, of course, entitled to her opinion, and I presume she voted in accordance with her conscience.

Several weeks after the vote was taken, I received a letter from Sen. McCaskill. The arguments given by the senator for her action were very disappointing. In fact, they added insult to injury--making a bad situation worse.

Sen. McCaskill started out by thanking me for contacting her regarding "birth control and women's health." I did no such thing. I wrote to her concerning a grave threat to religious freedom and the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience that we enjoy here in the United States of America.

Like many others, Sen. McCaskill tries to frame this debate in terms of "birth control and women's health." It doesn't matter whether religious people see it this way or not. The senator apparently believes that framing the issue this way, which is called "spin-doctoring" in the language of political manipulation, justifies her position. I regret that she feels this way, but I am particularly offended when she attributes this language to me. Once again, I did not contact her about birth control or women's health. I contacted her about religious freedom.

Next the senator explained to me that she supports the so-called compromise offered by the Obama administration following "considerable debate" on the HHS mandate. This compromise "ensures that all women with employer-sponsored health plans will have access to free preventive health services, while protecting the religious freedom of religiously affiliated employers." According to the senator, "If a church or religious employer determines that covering birth control would be inconsistent with their organization's beliefs, the insurance company rather than the employer will be required to offer these services directly to women."

Once again, following the Obama administration's lead, Sen. McCaskill spins her language in order to suggest that she is defending "the religious freedom of religiously affiliated employers" when, in fact, she is really upholding the intrusion of government bureaucrats into deeply-seated areas of conscience and religious freedom. The "compromise" offered by the Obama administration provides no substantive change. Organizations (religious and otherwise) that object to the terms of the mandate on religious or moral grounds are still required to provide "preventive services" indirectly through premiums paid to their insurers or directly in the case of organizations like the Archdiocese of St. Louis that are self-insured.

Finally, in what may be the unkindest cut of all, Sen. McCaskill portrayed herself as someone who is committed to reducing the number of abortions. According to the senator, "if you really believe that reducing abortions is important in this country, which I do, then it doesn't work to keep putting up barriers to women getting birth control." Reducing abortions? The HHS mandate does nothing to reduce the number of abortions. In fact, it provides ready access to so-called "morning after" drugs that can induce abortions.

Barriers to birth control? No matter how she chooses to spin this, no one is arguing that birth control should be more difficult to obtain. Allowing organizations and insurers who object on moral grounds to be exempt from providing these so-called preventive services won't make contraception harder to get, but it will allow those who have a conscientious objection to remain faithful to their religious and moral principles. That's what the First Amendment is all about -- the freedom of religion and the dignity of the individual conscience.

I hope Sen. McCaskill will rethink her position on these issues. But whatever she decides, I will respect her right to follow her conscience and the dictates of her religious principles. I only hope that she will do the same for those of us who see things very differently.

Conway serves as consultant for mission advancement for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and is a member of St. Ambrose Parish in south St. Louis.

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