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Democrats Hoping Politics of Birth Control Work for Them

Democrats may be protesting the policy behind a Republican amendment to override the administration’s contraception compromise with the Catholic Church, but they also are embracing the political fallout.

In a press call today, a group of Democratic Senators attacked a “conscience clause” amendment from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as part of “a concerted Republican effort” to restrict women’s access to health care. But in doing so, Democrats painted the difference between the parties as one based in election-year politics — politics they clearly think they can win, especially with women voters.

“It’s clearly a concerted Republican effort to attack women’s health care in an election year,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of the Senate leadership team. “It’s strategy.”

Murray added that she believed Republicans think their path to electoral gains “runs right through the women’s health clinic.”

But the political coin has two sides, and it is Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who ultimately decides which amendments get votes. A vote on the Blunt language is expected as soon as next week, when the Senate moves forward with a larger transportation bill. By including the Blunt amendment on the list of measures the Senate will consider, Democrats have lengthened their campaign on women’s health care issues — opening the door for more press availabilities, statements and floor speeches.

Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) — who controls the caucus’s messaging — called the GOP offering co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) “an election-year ploy.”

Schumer and Murray, in addition to Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), warned that the Blunt amendment as drafted would allow employers to opt out of providing a variety of health care services, not just family planning, based on moral objections.

“It’s not about birth control coverage; it’s about access to any kind of coverage,” Boxer said. Shaheen then posed a rhetorical situation in which employers could deny services to employees in interracial marriages if employers were morally opposed to them.

The Blunt amendment stipulates that “a health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits” if “providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan or [if] such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.”

Though the scope of the amendment appears broad, Blunt has said that the language merely enforces a status quo that Republicans believe Democrats changed by passing the 2010 health care law.

After an outcry from the Catholic community earlier this month, the administration announced a compromise, which released religious-based institutions, such as hospitals and universities, from a mandate to provide contraception insurance coverage. Instead, insurance companies will be required to provide that coverage, free of charge, to women working for those organizations that opt out of the requirement.

As for whether Democrats fear their campaign for women’s rights will further upset the Catholic community — an important voting bloc for 2012 — the Senators on the call seemed unfazed.

“The polling seems to show that Catholic voters agree with the president’s compromise and that women should be offered contraception,” Schumer said. “It’s not the status quo; it’s a giant step backward.”

A CBS/New York Times poll released Feb. 14 revealed that 66 percent of American adults supported the administration’s compromise position, with 61 percent of polled Catholics saying they also agree with the rule.

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