March 2, 2012
Senate Democrats Uphold Contraception Coverage Mandate
Senate Democrats struck down a “conscience” amendment on Thursday that would have allowed employers and religious groups to opt out of a new federal mandate requiring that health insurance plans include free contraceptive services.
The Blunt amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, would have allowed religious-affiliated hospitals, schools and other religious groups who objected to providing contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs based on “religious belief or moral conviction” to be exempted from the new rule.
The legislation was introduced as an amendment to an unrelated transportation bill, and would have amended a section of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
It was narrowly defeated in a 51 to 48 vote that broke largely along party lines.
Democrat Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia crossed party lines to vote with the Republicans, while Republican Senator Olympia Snowe voted with the Democrats.
Senators Casey and Manchin are up for re-election this year.
Democrats said the language of the Blunt amendment, known as the "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” was far too broad, and could be used by some employers to deny benefits beyond contraception.
"It would allow any employer or insurer to deny coverage for virtually any treatment for virtually any reason," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who called the bill "an extreme, ideological amendment."
Although the legislation was never expected to pass, Senator Reid said he had allowed it to come to a vote because Republicans would not let the transportation bill advance without a vote on the Blunt amendment.
In a statement issued after the vote, Senator Blunt vowed that the fight was not over, and said he would continue working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“I am truly disappointed by the partisanship that has been injected into this debate on religious freedoms,” he said.
“For the first time in our history, the Obama Administration´s health care mandate is an egregious violation of our First Amendment rights.”
“Unfortunately, this is only a glimpse of what Americans can expect as a result of President Obama´s government health care takeover — which is why we need to repeal and replace this bill with common-sense bipartisan solutions,” he said.
Senate Democrats, who characterized the legislation as something that would deny women access to contraception, took to the microphones immediately following the vote, calling the bill´s defeat a victory for women.
"This was an important step today and an important the message to the women - and to the men - in this country that we and the Democratic caucus will stand up to fight for their rights," Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) told reporters.
Attorneys general from seven states -- Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas — filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration last week to block the contraceptive mandate.
The full text of the bill can be viewed at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:S.1467: