Senate reject Blunt’s amendment to repeal contraception mandate

The Takeaway

A Senate effort to roll back the Obama administration’s birth control mandate floundered on Thursday, 51 votes opposed to 48 votes in favor.

The amenment to Senate Bill 1813, a highway bill, authored by Sen. Roy Blunt, (R-Mo.) would allow any private employer to exempt itself from the requirement to pay for employee’s contraceptive coverage based on “religious belief or moral conviction.”

On the floor, Senator Blunt defended his stance.

“This issue will not go away unless the administration takes it away by giving people of faith those First Amendment protections,” he said.

The battle over access to contraceptives has become especially pointed in recent months, despite years of dormancy.

Feb. 22, a federal judge in Tacoma, Wash., ruled that a state law requiring pharmacies to stock emergency contraceptives was unconstitutional. Democrats and Republicans both anticipated that Washington decision would impact national policies.

Judge Ronald Leighton ruled that the Washington law impeded conscientious objection. Drug store owner Kevin Storman brought the lawsuit.

“We didn’t originally choose to get involved with this battle, we were forced into this battle,” Storman said. “We were forced with having to violate our religious beliefs or close our pharmacy, and neither one was a good option for us.”

Eric Kniffin, legal counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who helped represent the plaintiffs, argued that the Washington law unfairly targeted religious groups.

“If you had a niche pharmacy, if you wanted to only serve oncology patients, if you thought certain drugs were going to attract crime, were too expensive, were too much of a hassle, that was all fine with the board of pharmacy,” Kniffin said. “But if you didn’t want to stock or deliver it for religious reasons, that was what they had problems with.”

Gloria Feldt, former president of Planned Parenthood, agreed that the state law should apply equally to all pharmacists, regardless of their reasons for not providing contraception. However, Feldt objected to the idea of any pharmacy refusing to stock emergency contraceptives.

“A lot depends on if that is the only pharmacy in town,” Feldt said. “In a rural community, for example, there may only be one pharmacy, and if that one pharmacist refuses to dispense, then that woman effectively has no access.”

The discussion surrounding the Washington ruling closely mirrored partisan opinions over the Blunt Amendment.

In a statement released Wednesday, Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote that, if passed, the Blunt Amendment would effectively allow employers to pick and choose which health care services they wish to provide for their workers,

“(The proposal) would allow employers that have no religious affiliation to exclude coverage of any health service, no matter how important, in the health plan they offer to their workers,” Sebelius said. “The Obama administration believes that decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss. We encourage the Senate to reject this cynical attempt to roll back decades of progress in women’s health.”

Senate Republicans disagree. In a letter sent out Wednesday to Republican senators, Blunt called Obama’s mandate “an egregious violation of religious freedom.” But 

Despite Thursday’s loss, Senate Republicans are optimistic that the hot button issue of contraception will bring more Republican voters out in November.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.