Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., relented on Tuesday and now says he’ll allow a Senate vote on an amendment that would reverse the White House’s controversial requirement that all insurers provide birth control free of charge to women. The proposal put forward last week by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would exempt employers from providing any care they find immoral.
It’s unlikely to pass the Senate, and Reid blocked the vote last week. But he gave in on Tuesday, providing a potential opportunity for his fellow Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska (a cosponsor of Blunt's amendment), Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to reaffirm their anti-abortion credentials and reassure constituents concerned about preserving religious scruples.
Blunt says his proposal is about the constitutional right to freedom of religion. President Obama says the White House took care of that with a rule putting the onus on insurers on Friday, although Catholic leaders and Republicans were not mollified.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Blunt's approach would give businesses and corporations veto power over their employee’s health care decisions. “It’s clear that this is not about religious freedom, since the Blunt proposal would allow any business or corporation to deny any essential health care service they object to,” Richards said in a statement.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Blunt’s proposal could lead to effects far beyond contraception. “If I believe that prayer should cure all disease, that’s my belief, and I’m an employer, I can deny coverage for any life-saving intervention,” Boxer said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The newly formed Coalition to Protect Women’s Health Care, which includes Planned Parenthood as a member, said the Blunt proposal would let employers and insurance companies claim a moral or religious exemption for a range of conditions.
“That means employers and insurance companies can not only deny access to birth control, they can also deny access to any essential health care service, including maternity care, HIV/AIDS treatment, mammograms, cancer screenings -- you name it,” the group said in a statement.
But the National Right to Life Committee said the Health and Human Services Department rule would give the federal government the power to force abortion care. “Exactly the same statutory authority could be used by the Secretary, next year or the year after that, to mandate that all health plans pay for elective abortion on demand,” the group’s legislative director, Douglas Johnson, wrote in a letter to senators.