One of the claims that supporters of the Blunt Amendment have been making is that it would “restore conscience rights” that existed before the health care reform law. Let’s apply some of what I learned in law school about legislative language and take a look at the dictionary definition meaning of “restore.” “Restore” means “to give something back” or “to return something to previous condition.” So then, the supporters’ argument is that the Blunt Amendment gives back “conscience rights” that existed before the health care law, or it returns “conscience rights” to their previous condition before the health care law. The problem is, however, that the actual language in the Blunt Amendment creates a refusal right that would allow a health plan or employer to refuse to provide insurance coverage for any item or service required by the health care reform law. Before the health care reform law, no such refusal right existed.
Under current law, individuals and entities who wish to refuse a role in abortion services are protected by three different federal laws, the Church Amendments (42 U.S.C. § 300a-7), the Coats Amendment (42 U.S.C. § 238n), and the Weldon Amendment, which is attached to the Labor-HHS appropriations bill each year. The health care reform law explicitly said it would not have any effect on these laws, meaning these were the law of the land before the health care reform law and continue to be the law now. So, the Blunt Amendment doesn’t “restore” these rights because they never went away. What could the Blunt Amendment be about, then?
Before the health care reform law, refusals happened all the time, and that was a big part of the problem that the health care reform law was meant to address. People were refused coverage for things like having had a C-section or being a cancer survivor. Insurance plans refused to provide coverage for services, like maternity care or mental health. But to call the refusals that happened before health care reform a “conscience right” is a mischaracterization. Refusals were business as usual. They had very little, if anything, to do with an individual’s or insurance company’s conscience. They had to do with insurance companies refusing coverage for things they didn’t find profitable. And by granting a huge loophole with its permission to refuse coverage based on “moral considerations” the Blunt Amendment would take us right back there, while hiding under the guise of “conscience rights.”