The Senate rejected Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt's amendment to enable employers to refuse to cover certain health services for their employees. Photo: John Shinkle / Politico.
The Senate rejected a Republican amendment on Thursday which would have allowed employers and health insurance companies to refuse to offer contraception services if they objected to do so on religious grounds.
The amendment put forward by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was backed by 45 Republicans and three Democratic senators: Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) was the only Republican to vote against the proposal.
This signifies that President Obama birth control policy will enable women to access contraception services via an employer’s health plan or an insurance company.
However, following strong objections from Catholic leaders, Mr. Obama agreed to alter the legislation so that employers such as Catholic hospitals would still have to offer indirect contraception services via their insurance company. In addition, the cost would be borne directly by the insurance company and not the employer. Despite Mr. Obama‘s move, Catholic leaders are still unhappy that some institutions will be forced to indirectly provide services they strongly object to.
Democratic senators objected to the wording of the amendment, which stated that employers could deny “specific items or services” if these were “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan”.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said Sen. Blunt’s proposal could potentially have widespread consequences. “The Blunt amendment would allow employers to deny virtually any preventive or essential health service based on a religious or moral objection. An employer could deny coverage of H.I.V./AIDS screenings, prenatal care for single mothers, mammograms, vaccinations for children, or even screenings for diabetes based on a moral objection to a perceived unhealthy lifestyle,” she said.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley fully agreed with Sen. Shaheen. “The Blunt amendment would allow a C.E.O. to say, ‘We are not going to cover end-of-life care’ because of a conviction that such care is interfering with God’s will,”he said. Similarly, “It would allow employers to deny access to obesity programs because they believe that obesity results from a moral failing,” he added.
However, Sen. Blunt replied that his proposal was intentionally vague because it could encompass many different services. “The word ‘contraception’ is not in there because it’s not about a specific procedure. It’s about a faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees,” he explained.
Many Republicans have described Mr. Obama‘s health legislation as intrusive.