The Senate Thursday blocked a Republican measure to stop the Obama administration’s new rule that forces religious-based businesses to provide free contraception, sterilization and abortifacients through health insurance.
The amendment authored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was tabled on a mostly party-line vote of 58-41. The only Republican to vote for tabling the amendment was Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine; however, three Democrats voted against tabling it. They were Sens. Robert Casey (Pa.), Joe Manchin (W.V.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.).
“I am truly disappointed by the partisanship that has been injected into this debate on religious freedoms,” Blunt said. “Instead of working to pass a bipartisan measure that has been part of our law for almost 40 years, this debate has been burdened by outlandish and divisive efforts to misinform and frighten Americans.”
“Unfortunately, this is only a glimpse of what Americans can expect as a result of President Obama’s government health care takeover – which is why we need to repeal and replace this bill with common-sense bipartisan solutions,” Blunt said.
The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act sought to amend ObamaCare and allow health plans to decline coverage of specific items and services that were contrary to the religious beliefs of the organization sponsoring the coverage.
The new Obama rule exempts churches, but hospitals and schools run by Catholic organizations, for example, must still provide the insured services for free, whereas previously it required a copay.
“It’s about a faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees,” Blunt said.
Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Obama rule would make second-class citizens of people of faith.
“Now some of the proponents of this mandate say that, in this case, we should just ignore the First Amendment. (Opponents) say that certain religious beliefs in question aren’t particularly popular, so they don’t really deserve First Amendment protection,” McConnell said. “But isn’t that the entire point of the First Amendment? To protect rights regardless of who or how many people hold them? Isn’t that the reason people came to this country in the first place, as a refuge from governments that said they had to toe the majority line?”
Democrats argued that the measure would allow business to object to everything from cancer screening to treatment for diabetes or immunization shots.
“It makes the American people wonder, what are we doing here?” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). “There’s no reason to have this polarizing debate.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said “the scope of this amendment is unlimited,” and that it was an attempt by Republicans to “score cheap political points.”
“This would undermine our system of patient protections, especially for women,” Menendez said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called the Obama rule “discrimination masquerading as compassion.” “Under this administration, our Bill of Rights has been subordinated to President Obama’s desire to micromanage the nation’s health care system,” Hatch said.
The House plans to take up a similar measure, but with today’s failed vote, the prospects are dim.