Debt Ceiling, Shutdown Fight ‘Leverage’ For Paul Ryan’s Religious Agenda

House Rep. Paul Ryan is now using the debt ceiling fight to force a "conscience clause" into Obamacare that would deny women birth control.

House Rep. Paul Ryan is now using the debt ceiling fight to force a “conscience clause” into Obamacare that would deny women birth control.

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has chosen to wage his war on women via the debt ceiling fight. Specifically, he wants the GOP to leverage the looming deadline to force a “conscience clause” into the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This would deny women birth control.  The “conscience clause” would allow any employer to refuse insurance payments for birth control methods based on their own beliefs. They would not have to be religious groups.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) now requires insurance companies to cover birth control with no out-of-pocket costs. It’s been shown before that free contraception results in both a lower pregnancy rate and a lower abortion rate. In addition, the courts can’t seem to agree on whether for-profit companies can legally refuse to pay for birth control. Back in September, The 6th Circuit Court ruled unanimously that they do not have that right. However, the 10th Circuit Court, which heard the Hobby Lobby case, ruled the other way.

Anti-birth control “conscience clause” laws have gained popularity.

“Conscience clause” laws have spread across the nation over the last 40 years. Congress and several states enacted “conscience clause” laws for doctors following the Roe v. Wade decision. This was to make it legal for them to opt out of performing abortions because of their religious beliefs. Pharmacists in some states are also allowed to opt out of filling prescriptions for birth control if it violates their religious beliefs.

These laws have also made it into the world of education. They mostly state that students don’t have to participate in any activities that conflict with their religious beliefs. This seems to apply mostly to teaching evolution, where students who believe strongly in creationism aren’t required to participate in studies involving evolution.

Many “conscience clause” laws do come with legal issues, though education laws generally don’t. Hobby Lobby v. Sibelius and Autocam v. Sibelius will likely reach the Supreme Court because of the differences in the two rulings. It may also call the Citizens United decision into question, because the Sixth Circuit Court said that corporations aren’t actually people.

Should the debt ceiling and shutdown even be used as leverage for this?

More than all of this, however, is Congressman Ryan’s calling the debt ceiling and the budget “leverage” to use to push his “conscience clause” and other pieces of the Republican agenda through. While it is true that presidents and Congresses have negotiated deals on the debt ceiling before, it’s not especially common. Also, it should absolutely not be used to force a certain set of morals onto the American people.

What’s worse is that they’d leverage the lives of real people to force their agenda through instead of asking themselves why this is even necessary. For instance, they could work on finding out whether Americans simply support a “conscience clause.” It seems that majority of people don’t. Even Congresswoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who originally voted for the “conscience clause” (then known as the Blunt Amendment), went back on her decision, saying that it was seen as an attack on women’s reproductive rights in her state.

Evangelicals are really the only people this concerned about social issues.

Evangelical Republicans seem to really be the only people who insist on interfering in various social issues, including abortion and birth control. Even Tea Party members who don’t identify as evangelical don’t really support this stuff. They believe that the government does not have the right to decide these issues, whether they personally agree with them or not.

Congressman Ryan is a Christian himself, so it’s not surprising that he would push a “conscience clause” now. Resorting to the extreme measure of using the debt ceiling and the shutdown to force something through shows that he knows denying birth control to women is not popular with Americans. If the contraception mandate does reach the Supreme Court, it will be interesting to see whether they decide if a “conscience clause” in the ACA would even be legal.