Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images.
UPDATE: The Senate on Thursday defeated a GOP-backed bid to allow employers to opt out of provisions of Obamacare that they found morally objectionable, including the contraception mandate. The vote to table the so-called Blunt amendment fell mostly along party lines, 51-48.
Although, as Politico notes, a handful of Democrats did break ranks: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Meanwhile, Sen. Olympia Snow of Maine, who cited the overly partisan nature of the Senate as a major reason why she'll retire at the end of her current term, was the only Republican to join Democrats in voting against the amendment.
Thursday, March 1, 11:05 a.m.: A politically-charged proposal that would allow employers to opt out of provisions of President Obama's health care law on religious or moral grounds, including the contraception mandate, is set for vote in the Senate Thursday.
To so-called Blunt amendment, named for its author Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, is the latest push in continued conservative opposition to the White House's compromise on a mandate in the health reform law that would have required employers to provide coverage of contraceptives to employees free of charge. The president's tweak passed the responsibility of coverage on to the health insurance companies for religious organizations, thereby freeing those organization of direct involvement.
While the contraception mandate has become a rallying point for conservative opposition to Obamacare, it's also become an issue that Democrats believe they can win over large swaths of female voters.
Indeed, the compromise seems to have energized both sides of the debate, as evidenced by Rep. Darrell Issa's hearing on "religious freedom" held one week after Obama's announcement. At the outset of the hearing, an all-male panel discussed contraception coverage within the frame of religious freedom, prompting some infuriated female members of Congress to walk out.
The Blunt amendment also reframes the issue of contraception coverage as a gender-neutral issue of religious liberty. As the Associated Press reports, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell told his colleagues that this "isn't about one particular religion, it's about the rights of Americans of any religion."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius warned against the broad language of the bill in a statement, calling the legislation "dangerous and wrong," adding, "this proposal isn't limited to contraception nor is it limited to any preventive service. Any employer could restrict access to any service they say they object to."