Breaking: Senate kills Blunt amendment on religious conscience exemption to HHS mandate

Democrats managed to wrangle enough votes to table the Blunt amendment that would have amended the HHS mandate to allow employers a religious-conscience exemption from the requirement to supply free contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization to their employees:

The Senate voted today against an amendment to restore the religious liberty protections for employers who don’t want to be forced to pay for birth control or drugs that may cause abortions in their employee health plans.

Leading pro-life organizations called on the Senate to vote for the amendment to the mandate the Obama administration issued, but Democrats banded together against republicans to defeat it on a 51 to 48 margin by adopting a motion to table, or kill, it.

Key pro-abortion senators including Clare McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana voted against the amendment — which will energize pro-life advocates against their re-election campaigns this November. On the other side, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska were three Democrats who crossed sides and voted with Republicans to support the amendment.

The text of the Blunt Amendment consists of the language taken from the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S. 1467, H.R. 1179).  It would amend the Obama health care law (“ObamaCare”) to prevent the imposition of regulatory mandates that violate the religious or moral convictions of those who purchase or provide health insurance.

There’s been a lot of ridiculous spin on the HHS mandate, but perhaps Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s takes the cake:

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) arguing prior to the vote that Republicans wanted to roll back women’s rights to the “dark ages” when they were considered property.

“The Republicans want to take us forward to the dark ages again… when women were property that you could easily control, even trade if you wanted to,” said Lautenberg. “Its appalling we are having this debate in the 21st century.”

Er, let’s remember that this amendment has nothing to do with denying current access to birth control.  The CDC’s long-term study on contraception and unwanted pregnancies never even mentions access as one of the causes of non-use of birth control in unwanted pregnancies.  In fact, they found that 99% of women who wanted to be sexually active and avoid pregnancy accessed contraception: “”Contraceptive use in the United States is virtually universal among women of reproductive age: 99 percent of all women who had ever had intercourse had used at least one contraceptive method in their lifetime.”  Neither did the Blunt amendment propose to eliminate Title X federal funding for contraception through Medicaid.

The Blunt amendment only addressed the Obama administration’s diktat to employers that they have to supply contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization to their employees for free, even if their religious conscience opposes such products and services.  It has nothing to do with banning contraception or making it any less available than it is now.  It has everything to do with allowing people to freely practice their religion without interference from government, especially in being forced to directly fund and/or facilitate something that should be the responsibility of the individual in the first place.

What now?  This puts the onus right back on the White House.  Clearly, this issue isn’t going away no matter how badly the media reports on it.  Obama can continue to pick a fight over contraception with religious organizations, or move to take the entire issue off the table by broadening the exemption.  I’d guess he’ll do the latter, but it may be too late to undo the damage to his standing with Catholics and mainline Protestants if a change doesn’t come soon.

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