WASHINGTON--Senate Democrats tabled a move by Republicans to dilute contraception coverage provided in the new health care law that is effective this August. The Thursday vote--on the first day of Women's History Month--was 51-48 mostly along party lines. Democrats--lawmakers, the Obama re-election team and allied groups--are using this latest assault on birth control by Republicans to push very heavily their argument that the GOP agenda is too extreme when it comes to female health issues.
This is a very important topic politically--swing and independent female voters will be crucial players in the 2012 elections.
Mitt Romney bungled his answer on the issue on Wednesday--saying at first he was for the GOP measure--then against it. Rick Santorum and Democrats are hammering Romney with the same point--he is a man you cannot trust when it comes to where he stands. The Democratic National Committee came out Thursday with a web video highlighting Romney's botched reply--and the list of free health services women get--mammograms, pre-natal testing, etc. under Obama's new health insurance law.
Stephanie Cutter, an Obama campaign top deputy said in an e-mail sent Wednesday, "Mitt Romney apparently thinks your employer should be able to deny you coverage for birth control.
"Tomorrow morning, Senators Roy Blunt and Marco Rubio are putting a bill on the floor of the Senate to allow all employers -- not just religious organizations -- to deny insurance coverage for birth control and any other medical service they find "morally objectionable."
"For a brief moment this afternoon, it looked like Mitt Romney was showing some spine and opposing the proposal. But literally within minutes, his campaign walked it back, clarifying that he supports the bill that would let any woman's boss decide whether or not her preventive care is covered," Cutter said.
All women, no matter their employer, will get free contraception coverage starting this August under the Obama health care law. Obama last month--addressing concerns raised by Catholic bishops and others, revised the rule covering religious employers. Under the change accepted by some Catholic leaders but not the bishops-- women who work for a religious employer--such as a hospital or non-profit--will get the benefit directly from the insurance company
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) who announced this week she will retire, was the only Republican to vote to table the proposals, by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to amend the new Obama health care law in order to let any employer opt out of providing contraception coverage if they have a religious moral objection.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) were the only two Democrats to back the Blunt amendment--attached to a transportation bill.
GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney stumbled over the Blunt amendment when he was asked about it on Wednesday, telling an interviewer without missing a beat, "I'm not for it." A short time later Romney took it back--said he did support Blunt, but did not flip-flop. "I misunderstood the question, and of course I support the Blunt amendment."
From the Democratic National Committee: "Really? Could Mitt Romney have honestly confused "Blunt" and "Rubio"? Missouri Senator Roy Blunt is his campaign's liaison to the Senate. And Senator Marco Rubio is a Romney supporter who's been named a possible V.P. candidate."
House Republicans also have been trying to dilute the new contraception insurance benefit. Government Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last month ran a hearing titled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?"
Reaction on the failure of the Blunt amendment:
From Nancy Keenan, NARAL
"The truth is, anti-contraception members of Congress are not letting up. There are at least four other bills attacking birth control that we have to defeat. And the U.S. House of Representatives held three hearings this week on this issue. These hearings come after the infamous all-male panel attacking coverage of contraception."
From House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
"Once again, Republicans have proposed a sweeping overreach into the lives, and health, of America's women. Today, the Senate tabled an extreme amendment to a completely unrelated bill that would allow an employer or insurance company to claim a vague 'moral conviction' as an excuse to deny women health care coverage. Democrats have worked to expand coverage for basic health care; this amendment is about cutting coverage for basic health care services for women, including such preventive care as contraceptives, mammograms, prenatal screenings, cervical cancer screenings, and much more.
"It's not ironic, but, rather, tragic, that on the day we kick off Women's History Month, the Senate debates this devastating legislation to put at risk health care for millions of women, including the 20 million women already benefiting from preventive health services guaranteed under health reform. But it's just the latest ploy in the Republican agenda of disrespecting the health of American women."