By Anna Benyo, Senior Health Policy Analyst at the National Women’s Law Center
Originally posted on WomenStake

Apparently we have to keep fighting for basic health care. On Friday the Colorado state legislature took up a measure that would have a lasting impact on women’s access to health services, such as contraception.

The Colorado Senate Memorial 12-003 calls upon Congress to enact the Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act of 2011. This extreme bill introduced in Congress gives virtually limitless and unprecedented license to any employer or insurance plan, religious or not, to exclude coverage of any health service, no matter how essential, as required by the federal health care law.

In fact, this legislation was recently repackaged as the Blunt Amendment and attached to a routine transportation bill. Fortunately, this extreme measure was voted down by the U.S. Senate. As an aside, one of the Republican Senators who voted for the Blunt Amendment—Senator Murkowski—realized, after the vote, the extreme nature of the Blunt Amendment and now says she regrets her vote.

The Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act of 2011 creates a huge loophole, allowing employers and plans to use religious or moral convictions to eliminate critical health care services. This bill allows employers and insurance companies to refuse coverage of any health care service required under the new health care law based on undefined “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

What does that mean in practice? Well, any corporation whose CEO opposes contraception based on his “moral convictions” could deny all coverage of contraception or any other service to the company’s employees. Even worse, a CEO’s view of “morality” could potentially result in non-coverage of any particular benefit.

This bill is yet another attempt to undermine the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act. It would allow plans or an employer offering a plan to avoid the requirement that all new health plans cover certain “preventive services” without cost-sharing, including some that are specific to women—like the full range of FDA approved methods of contraception. This also means that a plan could refuse to cover HIV/AIDS screenings or counseling because of moral or religious opposition to certain methods of transmitting HIV/AIDS.

Fortunately, this measure was defeated. But how often are we going to go through this?

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