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GOP blocks bill to restore birth control insurance coverage

By Donna Cassata

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:11 a.m. HST, Jul 16, 2014

WASHINGTON >> Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill aimed at restoring free contraception for women who get their health insurance from companies with religious objections, a legislative setback for Democrats that they hope will be a political winner in November's elections.

The vote was 56-43 to move ahead on the measure, short of the 60 votes necessary to proceed.

Democrats sponsored the election-year bill to reverse last month's Supreme Court ruling that closely held businesses with religious objections could deny coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law.

Republicans called the bill a political stunt aimed at helping vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the elections.

Indeed, Democrats have seized on the birth control issue as they look ahead to November with hopes of energizing voters, especially women, to preserve the party's Senate majority. Democrats must defend more seats, and Republicans are upbeat about their prospects of gaining the six necessary to secure control, especially in GOP-leaning Southern states.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who is in a competitive re-election contest, summed up her party's argument on the issue.

"A woman's health care decision should be made with her doctor, with her family, with her faith, not by her employer with her employer's faith," Shaheen said in a Senate speech.

But Republicans said that the Democratic effort was merely a move to boost struggling incumbents and that both parties support a woman's right to make her own health care decisions.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats "think they can score political points and create divisions where there aren't any by distorting the facts."

McConnell joined with two Republican women, Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Deb Fischer of Nebraska, in backing separate legislation that would reaffirm current law on access to contraception and in calling for a Food and Drug Administration study on whether contraceptives could be sold over the counter without a prescription.

In one of the most closely watched races in the country, McConnell faces Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in his bid for a sixth term.

Three Republicans broke ranks with their party -- Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mark Kirk of Illinois -- and backed the Democratic-led legislation. In a procedural move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., switched his vote to no, allowing him to bring the measure up for another vote closer to the election.

All other Democrats backed the bill.

National statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 99 percent of women ages 15 to 44 who have had sexual intercourse have used at least one form of contraception.

"I trust women to make their own health care decisions, and I don't believe their employers should have a say in them," said Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, a chief sponsor of the legislation with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Udall faces a tough race against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in November.

In Colorado in 2008, female voters were critical to Udall's election to the Senate, favoring his candidacy 56 percent to 41 percent while men backed him 50 percent to 46 percent, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and other news organizations.

In the 2012 presidential election, Democrats overall captured the female vote by double digit margins as did the party in House races -- 55 percent to 44 percent -- when Obama won re-election. Democrats enjoyed a slightly better edge in the 2008 elections when Obama captured his first term and Democrats maintained their congressional majority.

It was far different in the 2010 midterm elections, some eight months after Obama signed the health care law and as the tea party energized the GOP. Female voters backed Republicans 49 percent to the Democrats' 48 percent in a low-turnout election that enabled the GOP takeover of the House.

Late last month, a deeply divided Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that requiring closely-held companies to pay for various forms of women's contraception to which they object violates the corporations' religious freedom. The decision marked the first time the high court had declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law.

"Five men on the Supreme Court rolled back the clock on women in America," Murray said.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the court's decision has "awakened the pro-choice majority in this country."

In Kentucky, NARAL began a 30-second, black-and-white ad criticizing Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell for his opposition to the legislation. The tag line said, "Mitch McConnell will never do the right thing for Kentucky women."


Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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kainalu wrote:
Kudos to Mark Kirk of Illinois, the only male Republican to break from the pack.
on July 16,2014 | 10:53AM
AhiPoke wrote:
Clearly a political move which is what our congress and president have fallen to. Virtually nothing is done for the benefit of our country any more. It's all about politics. I'm not a republican nor do I have strong feelings about birth control. My perception is that women have easy access to affordable birth control up to and including abortions.
on July 16,2014 | 11:23AM
false wrote:
Yes, AhiPoke and the foundation of the Republicans taking control of the Senate. The only question remaining is, if the Republicans can gain 60 seats come November.
on July 16,2014 | 11:41AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Women have every right to make their own health care decisions including birth control, but they do not have the right to force employers to pay for the four birth control drugs that kill human embryos. These drugs were not included in the Affordable Care Act, but instead were added administratively by the Obama administration. Woman still have access to more than one dozen birth control drugs and devices included in Obamacare. If women want to use the four in question, all they have to do is go to a drug store and buy them with their own money.
on July 16,2014 | 11:32AM
South76 wrote:
I agree with you, what the Supreme Court blocked were just the abortion pills but not the other contraception drugs/devices listed in the original socialized healthcare. We all know the law of the land is abortion is legal and that is going to be here for awhile. Everyone is bound to make mistakes, but don't use my tax dollars to pay for your mistakes. If you want to kill an innocent life then do that with your own money but force me to pay for your mistakes.
on July 16,2014 | 11:41AM
EightOEight wrote:
South76, so if someone is against war their tax dollars shouldn't be used to fund a war or post-war costs? Someone who opposes capital punishment shouldn't pay taxes for that purpose either? I'm sure innocents have perished under both situations.
on July 16,2014 | 12:53PM
EightOEight wrote:
I believe it still takes two to make a baby. Maybe legislation is in order to ensure that women aren't the only ones paying for unwanted pregnancies and children.
on July 16,2014 | 12:57PM
South76 wrote:
I agree with you, what the Supreme Court blocked were just the abortion pills but not the other contraception drugs/devices listed in the original socialized healthcare. We all know the law of the land is abortion is legal and that is going to be here for awhile. Everyone is bound to make mistakes, but don't use my tax dollars to pay for your mistakes. If you want to kill an innocent life then do that with your own money but DON'T force me to pay for your mistakes with my tax dollars.
on July 16,2014 | 11:43AM
SteveDavis wrote:
Incorrect. While Hobby Lobby only fought to not include those four in their health plan, the Supreme Court clarified that a company can use religion to not include coverage for any methods of birth control. Without employer coverage for contraception, there is a greater likelihood that tax dollars could be used instead as referenced in the Supreme Court opinion.
on July 16,2014 | 12:21PM
akanno wrote:
If "A woman's health care decision should be made with her doctor, with her family, with her faith, not by her employer with her employer's faith," Then why are employers' being forced to pay for it. Secondly, since when did women's sexual freedom become more important than life and death. As far as I know, there are still co-pays for cancer drugs, diabetes, heart disease and other life threatening ailments.
on July 16,2014 | 11:58AM
SteveDavis wrote:
Employers aren't forced to pay for it. A health plan is part of the compensation given to an employee for the work performed. It is added to an employee's salary as part of your total compensation package, therefore it is the employee's money. The employer should not be able to restrict what an employee does with their health care compensation any more than they can with their salaried compensation. Personally, I would like to see employers get out of the health insurance business altogether and use the savings to raise the salary of their employees so that they can buy their own insurance. That was not easily done before the ACA as people could be rejected for pre-existing conditions. Now that there is an individual mandate and people cannot be rejected, the employer mandate should be dropped. That would solved a lot of these issues. Or even better, single payer, a public options or Medicare for all. Having lived in Canada for 31 years, I can say it is far better than the system here.
on July 16,2014 | 12:29PM
SteveDavis wrote:
One more point. Contraception is a preventative measure to reduce unwanted pregnancy and other conditions. The cost of birth control is far less than maternity coverage, so plans that do not cover contraceptives should cost more than those that do. Covering birth control saves money for the employer, the employee and their family, and society as a whole. These companies are refusing that coverage based purely on moral and not on financial grounds.
on July 16,2014 | 01:34PM
EightOEight wrote:
One only has to google 'Hobby Lobby hypocrisy' to know that their opposition to birth control coverage on Christian moral grounds is a bunch of malarkey.
on July 16,2014 | 03:12PM
SteveDavis wrote:
I should have been more clear and put quotes around "moral". Just wanted to get across that it doesn't cost more to cover birth control, therefore their objection is not based on their financial interest. It is more likely based on other grounds (political, "moral" or something else). They should be paying more for their premiums to cover the higher costs as a result of limiting contraceptive coverage. Much of the point of the ACA designating birth control as a preventative measure along with vaccinations, etc was to lower the overall costs in the health care system.
on July 17,2014 | 03:01PM
IkaikaAnderson wrote:
Amen, SteveDavis
on July 16,2014 | 03:20PM
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