Dem women senators press Boehner to nix birth-control vote

Twelve Democratic women senators urged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday not to hold a vote on controversial proposals to let religious employers opt out of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

Republicans are downplaying the issue on their own after losing a Senate vote last week and seeing their narrative sidetracked by radio host Rush Limbaugh. Democrats have framed the issue around women’s health, rather than religious freedom, and Thursday’s letter to Boehner drove that theme home once more.

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“For most American women, the battle over contraception was settled a half-century ago,” the senators wrote. “Yet, over the course of the past month alone, women have watched as panels on birth control have been convened without women, a young woman that dared to speak out in defense of birth control was subjected to vile name-calling, and extreme legislation, like the Blunt amendment, has been pushed to deny access.”

The Senate voted 51-48 last week to kill an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), that would have let employers opt out of coverage mandates that violate their religious or moral beliefs.

Boehner had initially pledged to move quickly on a House bill to weaken the White House’s mandate, taking to the House floor to condemn the policy and promising a bill from the Energy and Commerce Committee. But that legislation has not materialized and no vote has been scheduled for similar bills.

The White House policy requires most employers to cover contraception in their employees’ health plans. Houses of worship are exempt. Religious-affiliated employers like Catholic hospitals do not have to provide the benefit directly; their employees can obtain contraception, without a co-pay, from their insurance company.

“Women have had enough. As we have heard from countless women in our home states and here on Capitol Hill, they are tired of being targets for a political strategy that endangers their healthcare and they want it to stop,” the Democratic senators said in their letter to Boehner.