The Michigan Senate Committee on Health Policy passed (5 to 1) the “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act” (SB-136) late last week. Behind this proposed law (with the cloyingly righteous name) lies yet more barely concealed mysogyny from Michigan’s far right. It’s primary sponsor, Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), harbors not only a fondness of vowels, but a disdain for women’s reproductive rights.
Bills similar to this have turned-up in legislatures across the county, all with the intent to make contraceptive and reproductive care difficult to obtain. Like the other attempts, Michigan’s law would exempt health care professionals, employers providing insurance, and pharmacists from giving specific care to individuals seeking birth control, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and end-of-life care, among other treatments, based solely on unspecified religious or moral objections of the provider. As written, the proposed legislation does not require the provider to give any advance notice as to what they may object to, leaving the patient to find out only after care has commenced. Additionally, there is concern that in rural areas, where health care is limited, some patients may not have access to alternative facilities or pharmacists.
This is more than just another GOP attack on women’s reproductive rights, it’s likely a huge waste of legislative time, and if signed into law, a certain waste of taxpayer dollars.
Gov. Snyder just recently told House Speaker Jase Bolger he wasn’t interested in signing a bill with a transvaginal ultrasound requirement craftily hidden within — another insidious form of abrogating women’s reproductive rights. So, confidence should be low that he will buy into this attempt either.
Moreover, these laws are constantly being challenged and losing in the courts, wasting state Attorney’s General time and resources fighting their constitutionality. In fact just last week, U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig struck down a similar 2012 Missouri law citing constitutional supremacy of federal laws (in this case the 2014 provisions of “Obamacare”) over state laws. And last October, Judge Carol Jackson, appointed by George W. Bush, ruled to uphold the provisions of Obama’s health care plan that require employers to provide birth control. As reported in ThinkProgress, Judge Jackson said this:
“The burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [an employer’s health] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion. . . . [Federal religious freedom law] is a shield, not a sword. It protects individuals from substantial burdens on religious exercise that occur when the government coerces action one’s religion forbids, or forbids action one’s religion requires; it is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others. [It] does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own. . . .
[T]he health care plan will offend plaintiffs’ religious beliefs only if an employee (or covered family member) makes an independent decision to use the plan to cover counseling related to or the purchase of contraceptives. Already, [plaintiffs] pay salaries to their employees—money the employees may use to purchase contraceptives or to contribute to a religious organization. By comparison, the contribution to a health care plan has no more than a de minimus impact on the plaintiff’s religious beliefs than paying salaries and other benefits to employees.”
Michigan would be right to question the motives and committment to fiscal responsibility of Sen. Moolenaar, and the twenty other lawmakers sponsoring the “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act.”
Amy Kerr Hardin This article also appears in Voters Legislative Transparency Project