After President Obama offered a compromise to his birth control coverage rule, which would allow faith-based organizations to opt out of covering the cost of contraception for employees and have a third-party insurer cover it instead, a number of congressional Republicans continued to insist that any employer, regardless of religious affiliation, should be able to decline to cover contraception.
Next week, the Senate is expected to debate Sen. Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) amendment to the Transportation Authorization Bill, which takes that point of view a step further by allowing any employer to refuse to insure contraception or any other health service for any moral reason. The amendment has sent Senate Democrats into a tailspin because it would water down or nullify many of the landmark reforms they voted in with the Affordable Care Act.
"Here's the issue," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the transportation bill, told reporters on Friday. "Our families deserve health care. They deserve access to insurance that covers health care. The Blunt Amendment is very clear: for any reason, an employer can deny a host of services from contraception, to breast cancer screening, to autism screening, to depression screening, to osteoporosis screening, to STD screening. And that is a sad day when one political party feels that it helps the American people to take away their access to health care."
Democratic senators said in the press call that one of the more disturbing parts of the Blunt amendment is that it removes anti-discrimination protections from national health care coverage. For instance, an employer could refuse to cover screening for Type 2 diabetes because of a moral objections to a perceived unhealthy lifestyle, or someone could refuse to cover maternity coverage for an interracial couple because they have a religious or moral objection to such a relationship.
"This debate is not about any one group or one set of beliefs," Blunt said in a statement. "The Obama Administration's mandate violates Americans' First Amendment rights. This bill includes the same conscience protection language that has been part of our law for almost 40 years, and it simply preserves and protects the fundamental religious freedom that Americans have enjoyed for more than 220 years. Any attempts to argue otherwise are simply aimed at scaring Americans."
"As a husband and father of two daughters, I believe insurance companies should have to cover services that many women want and rely on. But I also recognize that there are some people who, based on their deepest moral and religious convictions, don’t agree with me regarding some of those services," he wrote. "We must seek to respect their rights, too."
Brown's support for the controversial Blunt Amendment could prove dangerous for his reelection chances against Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren in a reliably blue state. She called his position "an assault on every family in Massachusetts," and his campaign responded by calling her "elitist" for wanting to force insurance employers to cover contraception.
But Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said it's clear that the birth control controversy is part of a concerted GOP strategy to win in 2012, because they believe "their path to victory on election day runs right through a women's health clinic."
"They seem to think that if they can make birth control harder for women to get, that they're going to see results at the ballot box," she said. "You know, this is a desperate strategy from a party that is clearly given up on creating jobs and boosting the economy."