To Put it Bluntly: the Amendment Undermines Health Care For Women and Everyone Else

Sometime this week, Senator Blunt’s amendment to the transportation bill that addresses the contraception issue will be taken up by the Senate. The Blunt Amendment allows employers and insurance companies to refuse to cover any health care service required under the new health care law if they object to it on the grounds of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.” Under this amendment a business or insurance company could  Refuse to cover HIV / AIDS screening or counseling on the ground that the disease is the product of immoral activity, whether gay sex or intravenous drug use. Refuse to cover any illnesses that are the result of or have been exacerbated by smoking or drinking on the ground that these behaviors are contrary to their moral or religious beliefs. Refuse to cover maternity care for unmarried women on the grounds that sex is permissible only for married couples. Refuse to … Continue reading

What the Contraception Issue Is and Is Not About

In politics the most important thing is to understand what the argument is and is not about. So let’s get clear about the dispute over the administration’s decision that contraception should be covered free of charge by all employer provided health insurance plans. This issue is not about freedom of religion. It is about providing all women with access to effective and safest contraception. That is important to the health of women and their children, to insuring equality for women, and to the family. The rule is good for the health of women, which is why it was called for by the non-partisan medical organization that advised the administration. When pregnancies are unplanned, women are less likely to get prenatal care and they and their children are less healthy. Women and children are also healthier when pregnancies are spaced out. There rule is good for the equality of women, which … Continue reading

Having fun while doing good or managing activism fatigue

Introduction Last weekend I appeared on a panel at the PA Progressive Summit called Don’t Stop Believing: Managing Activism Fatigue. The panel was created by three psychologists who thought that it would helpful for activists to get some advice about managing the stress, anxiety, and  exhaustion that often leads to burnout. I was asked to comment on their advice, based on my experience as an organizer. My remarks were well received so I’ve decided to write up my notes. I won’t try to present the ideas of my fellow panelists. They were very good but I don’t think I could do them justice. Instead will present the concrete recommendations I gave activists based on my own experience. I was drafted to be on the panel in part under false pretense. After ten years as an political activist, organizer and sometime candidate—the first six of which I did as a volunteer … Continue reading

Catholics, Contraception and President Obama

The Catholic Church claims that President Obama’s decision to require health insurance plans to include contraception violates its First Amendment right to freedom of religion. What Freedom of Religion Means This claim rests a mistaken understanding of that freedom. The freedom of religion clause protects our right to practice our own religion. That means the government cannot enact laws that aim at interfering with religious beliefs or practices. But the First Amendment has never been understood to grant us a general exemption from legislation that aims at a legitimate secular purpose even if it conflicts with our religion. Congress and state legislatures have granted institutions that perform religious services and teach religious doctrine limited exemptions from general laws. A church may give preference to members of its own denomination in hiring, even for non-clerical positions. Recently the Supreme Court ruled that the Americans with Disability Act does not apply to … Continue reading

Why I’m With Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz

Nate Kleinman, a former staffer for Josh Shapiro and activist with Occupy Philly, has decided to challenge Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz in the Democratic primary. I know Nate a little and he seems like a decent, smart guy. But I think he is making a terrible mistake. Normally I would just ignore his challenge, since I don’t think Nate will make much headway against Congresswoman Schwartz. But, as I will point out below, even the small distraction Nate may create is a problem for progressives and Democrats not just here but across the country. And as I will also point out, this is a revealing moment in our politics and a good opportunity for us to think through what progressive Democrats both in and outside of Congress should be doing and saying now. When primary challenges are a good idea I don’t oppose progressives running in primaries against Democrats who consistently … Continue reading

Fighting for Our Health

During the 18 months of the Health Care for America Now (HCAN) campaign in support of what became the Affordable Care Act, I gave over a hundred speeches to thousands of activists who were working us in Pennsylvania. I frequently concluded my speeches this way: “Who is most responsible for the most popular domestic program in our history, Social Security? (Someone would, of course, shout out ‘Franklin Roosevelt.’ Or a history buff would say Senator Wagner.) No, that’s not really true. Franklin Roosevelt was President when Social Security was enacted and his support was crucial. But he came late to supporting it. Long before he did, the Townsend Movement made retirement security an issue of national importance. The Townsend movement held meetings, just like this one, in living rooms, in church basements, in fire houses, in union halls, and in public libraries. It never brought 100,000 people to a rally … Continue reading