Sen. Mitch McConnell (Jim Young/Reuters)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is putting his weight behind Sen. Roy Blunt's amendment to the Affordable Care Act that would allow employers to deny coverage not just for contraception but for any treatment or any condition they claimed was contrary to their religious beliefs.
While coverage of the bill will likely center around contraception, that's not the Republicans' only target:
“The fact that the White House thinks this is about contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion, it’s right there in the First Amendment. You can’t miss it — right there in the very first amendment to our Constitution,” McConnell said. “What the overall view on the issue of contraception is has nothing to do with an issue about religious freedom.”
That's the religious freedom to deny coverage for birth control, of course. But it's also the religious freedom to deny coverage for cervical cancer, because it's caused by HPV, which is transmitted sexually. It's the religious freedom to deny coverage for treatment for alcoholism or any health issue associated with drinking. It's the religious freedom for any employer, not just religiously affiliated ones, to be legally allowed to come up with any excuse to exclude any kind of care from the health coverage they provide their employees, as long as they say it's a religious or moral reason.
Even as they claim it's about something bigger than contraception, you can bet Republicans will keep the focus squarely on that—they want the public debate to be contraception (associated with sex and women's health, and therefore ... icky) against religious freedom (a noble abstract idea and essential constitutional principle). But they're going for something much bigger. They're simultaneously looking to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, turn over governance to churches—in fact, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is sponsoring a bill similar to Blunt's because of something he heard in church—and give employers yet another way to shaft their workers.
Mitch McConnell is right. This fight is bigger than contraception. It always has been, because women's health isn't just a minor issue. But now, thanks to Republicans, it's a fight about any kind of health care you might name, and about workers at any business. Because women aren't a big enough target anymore; they're going after everyone now.