Today’s House Debate Topic: Contraception and Religion

State representatives debated at length Wednesday the Obama administration’s proposal to require that most health insurance plans cover the cost of contraception.
“Reminiscent of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, this administration has decided that its goal of state-run health care should trump millions of Americans constitutional right to religious freedom,” says one line in HJR667 by Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City.
The resolution, which amounts to a statement of opinion with no legal effect, calls on Congress to reject the proposed rule of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It passed 71-22 with all no votes coming from Democrats. The vote came after 35 minutes of back-and-forth arguments that included both sides quoting Biblical scripture.


Republican commentary ranged from Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia pointing out that “abstinence is absolutely the best contraception” to Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville warning that Catholic schools and charities might shut their doors because of the rule with taxpayers then forced to “pick up the tab.”
Democratic critics generally characterized the resolution as pointless political posturing.
“This bill is not necessary, therefore it is purely political,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville, contending “this thing has been worked out” through compromise in Washington and the Tennessee Legislature need not be involved.
The resolution itself depicts the attempted compromise as “granting a thin veneer of ‘conscience protection’ that is so ridiculously narrow that the vast majority of faith-based organizations, including religiously affiliated hospitals, schools, universities, and service organizations that help millions of Americans every year, will fail to qualify.”
Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar, a scripture-quoting Democrat, said resolution backers were acting as if the House was a religious institution.
“We need to stop wearing the righteousness of God on this floor,” he said. “This is not the church…. I wish we’d stop putting the church where it doesn’t belong.”
On the other hand, Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, quoted God’s call in Genesis for people to “be fruitful and multiply.”
And Dunn said the rule violated the Biblical injunction to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” The rule, he said, is taking away religious conscience and “giving it to government.”
The debate was not without efforts at humor. Rep. Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga, delivered a speech contrasting the large number of children women had generations ago with the smaller families nowadays with the use of contraceptives.
“Are you aware of any member of this body who is the biological parent of 12 children?” she asked Cobb.
“Maybe Ryan Haynes,” replied Cobb, referring the bachelor Republican lawmaker from Knoxville.

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