By Sam Baker - 02/14/12 10:09 PM EST
Republicans are picking a new fight over contraception — and at least some Democrats are happy to let them have it.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he’ll let the Senate vote on a proposal to reverse the White House’s controversial birth-control mandate. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), would let employers opt out of any coverage mandates they find immoral.
Reid blocked a vote on the same amendment last week, before the White House had announced new “accommodations” for religious organizations. Senate Republicans pressed ahead after Obama’s announcement, despite pundits’ warnings that the party could appear to be attacking contraception rather than defending religious liberty.
Blunt insisted Tuesday that his proposal would simply affirm the constitutional right to freedom of religion.
“If that amendment passed, nobody would have a right ongoing that they haven’t had for 225 years,” he told reporters.
A vote on the Blunt amendment could re-expose divisions among Senate Democrats. Sens. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who opposed the original contraception mandate, haven’t taken a position on Obama’s revisions, and the Blunt measure is in line with the broader exemption endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But the amendment could also energize Democrats and women’s-rights groups riding the momentum from a battle between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood and what they see as a win on the contraception compromise.
As quickly as the White House moved last week to tamp down the furor over original its mandate, congressional Democrats are hardly shying away from the Blunt amendment.
“It would allow anyone to deny any healthcare service for any reason,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said at a press conference. “If I believe that prayer should cure all disease, that’s my belief, and I’m an employer, I can deny coverage for any life-saving intervention.”
She said the policy would let employers deny coverage for more than just contraception. Treatment and screening for sexually transmitted diseases could be affected, she said, and employers could even cut off access to mental-health services — “even if that denial results in homicide, or results in suicide.”
Critics focused on the fact that the Blunt bill would let employers opt out of healthcare services not just because of religious objections, but also on “moral” grounds. That standard is nearly impossible to define, they say, and could ensnare services like vaccination.
"It is extreme. It is dangerous," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chairs Senate Democrats' campaign committee. "It puts politics between women and their healthcare."