Acute Agenda: For The House Leadership, Keeping The Religious Right Happy Is Job One

The Religious Right has a most curious definition of the term 'freedom.'

A week ago, I was sitting in a hotel ballroom surrounded by 3,000 Religious Right activists at the “Values Voter Summit.” Among the speakers we heard was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Cantor talked about several issues, among them jobs. In fact, we’ve been told over and over again that this Congress wants to get America back to work. But here’s a funny thing: We’re not actually getting legislation that has anything to do with jobs. It’s simply not on the House’s agenda.

So what are we getting? Legislation that advances the repressive agenda of the Religious Right.

The House yesterday passed a bill proponents call the “Protect Life Act.” It’s an odd name for a piece of legislation that actually puts the lives of women at risk.

Under the bill (H.R. 358) women would not be allowed to spend their own money on a private insurance plan that includes coverage for abortion through the state health care exchanges that are being created under the new health care bill.

A separate provision of the legislation would alter existing law and allow religious hospitals to refuse to provide abortions for any reason – even if the woman’s life was in jeopardy. That provision has led NARAL Pro-Choice America to label H.R. 358 the “Let Women Die” bill.

The measure was introduced by U.S Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), a long-time Religious Right ally. Cantor has been a big supporter, telling reporters that the bill is designed “to ensure that no taxpayer dollars flow to health care plans that cover abortion and no health care worker has to participate in abortions against their will.”

It goes much beyond that. The measure is designed to restrict access to abortion (which remains a legal procedure, by the way) and wipe out a law that requires hospitals to assist people in life-threatening emergencies.

Religious extremists who seek to control our reproductive lives love to portray abortion as some frivolous choice a woman makes. In fact, the sad truth is that a lot can wrong during a pregnancy, and some women find themselves facing literal life-or-death situations.

During the House debate over the measure, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), spoke powerfully about her own experience while pregnant.

“I was pregnant, I was miscarrying, I was bleeding,” Speier said. “If I had to go from one hospital to the next trying to find one emergency room that would take me in, who knows if I would even be here today. What my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are trying to do is misogynist.”

At the Values Voter Summit last week, I heard the word “freedom” tossed around quite a lot. The Religious Right has a most curious definition of that term. It’s not the right to run your own life and make your own decisions – it’s someone else having the “freedom” to tell you what to do according to his or her religion.

At the Summit, I also heard insistent calls to get the government out of our business – as well as claims that health care reform put Big Brother between you and your doctor. Pardon me, but this bill would seem to be the ultimate example of the government getting between and woman and her doctor. I sense more than a whiff of hypocrisy here.

The good news is that this draconian measure is unlikely to pass the Senate, and even if it did, Obama has vowed a veto.

But let this be a wake-up call to all of us: It’s yet another reminder that there are people out there who don’t trust you to make your own decisions, who seek to control even the most personal and intimate aspects of your life. They are determined to subject you to their narrow religious views, whether you subscribe to those views or not.

After all, they have consulted their holy books and their lofty spiritual leaders, and they know what’s best for you.

Such people are dangerous. But right now, the unfortunate reality is that they have some powerful friends in very high places.