GOP amendment would allow any employer to opt out of providing health services on moral grounds

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This week, the U.S. Senate is supposed to vote on a two-year transportation bill. The measure has bipartisan support, but the amendment process has begun with an issue that has nothing to do with roads and bridges.

Amendments are part of the legislative process. But Democrat Barbara Boxer, who co-authored the Senate transportation bill, says she’s amazed at the amendment offered by Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. Boxer says it would allow any employer or heath insurance company to deny coverage of any procedure or service they find objectionable on religious or moral grounds.

"If I believe that prayer should cure all disease," Boxer says, "and I’m an employer, I can deny coverage for any lifesaving intervention. Any one. Because it’s my moral belief that prayer is what we need to do."

The amendment expands an argument Catholic bishops made to the Obama administration over a provision in the new health care law that mandates employers provide free birth control. Bishops say it violates church teachings.

The California Democrat says she "struggled to find the connection" between health care and transportation. "So I thought maybe the amendment is you can’t take your birth control pill on a federal highway. And then I thought maybe it means that highway patrol officers can search for birth control pills when they make a stop."

Boxer says she’s confident the amendment will be defeated in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Fellow Democrat Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey calls the provision unconstitutional.

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