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Senator Scott Brown

Bill supporting exemption is a matter of fundamental fairness

THE NEW ObamaCare mandate forcing religious organizations to offer insurance coverage for practices that violate the teachings of their church gives the government control over the most personal aspects of our lives. It also erodes one of the basic protections of the Constitution - the right to practice religion without government interference.

The federal government is now saying to religious hospitals and charities, “Just do what you’re told, and leave the moral questions to us.’’ This over-reaching dictation from Washington is one reason I opposed and voted to repeal ObamaCare.

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As a husband and father of two daughters, I believe insurance companies should have to cover services that many women want and rely on. But I also recognize that there are some people who, based on their deepest moral and religious convictions, don’t agree with me regarding some of those services. We must seek to respect their rights, too.

My predecessor, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, believed just as I do. In a 2009 letter to Pope Benedict XVI, he expressed his support for a conscience exemption: “I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it.’’

My opponent Elizabeth Warren wants to take us in a different direction. She tells us, in so many words, that a mandate is a mandate, and Catholics and others just need to do as they are told. She has endorsed this intrusion on freedom of conscience, and proclaims herself “shocked’’ that I or anyone else could disagree. Such a dismissive mindset is no more appealing coming from the left than it is coming from the right.

Warren claims the administration has found a “compromise,’’ but it has not. The church remains opposed and lawsuits are being filed.

I support a bipartisan bill in the Senate that provides a conscience exemption in health care for people of faith. The bill restores the relevant laws on conscience protection that existed before ObamaCare removed them. Some critics say the bill is overly broad and would permit non-religious employers to drop health coverage on a whim. But this is a red herring - the bill does not allow employers to do anything that was not already permitted under federal law as it existed prior to ObamaCare. In fact, the only people talking about dropping health insurance are religious-affiliated organizations that would rather pay a fine than submit to federal rules that would cause them to violate their beliefs.

Ted Kennedy believed just as I do.

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The legislation borrows language directly from Senator Kennedy, who in 1995 sponsored a bill that that provided an exemption to health care workers and facilities so they would not be required to provide “an item or service under a certified health plan’’ they found objectionable based on “religious belief or moral conviction.’’

It is this same “moral conviction’’ that is now being labeled “extremist.’’

If there are changes to be considered in the proposal, I will keep an open mind and work to find a common-sense solution. If thoughtful people on both sides would work together, more often than not we could reach a genuine compromise. Instead, we hear fervent and absurd attacks on people’s motivations, and wild exaggerations meant to scare people.

It’s possible to provide women with access to the health care they want and protect the rights of Americans to follow their religious beliefs, just as we did before ObamaCare. The conscience exemption is a matter of fundamental fairness – and a right to be protected for all Americans, of every party and every faith.

Scott Brown is a US senator from Massachusetts.
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