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Five men, including several conservative religious leaders, testified before a House committee on female contraception issues. No women were allowed to testify. The Senate later blocks a bill restricting contraception from passing.Five men, including several conservative religious leaders, testified before a House committee on female contraception issues. No women were allowed to testify. The Senate later blocks a bill restricting contraception from passing. [Source: Twitter / London Daily Mail]The Senate votes down the controversial “Blunt amendment” 51-48, on a nearly party-line vote. The amendment, offered by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) as a rider to a routine highway bill and co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and 22 other senators, would have allowed health care providers to refuse to pay for contraception and other health care procedures on religious or moral grounds. If the amendment had passed, health insurance plans and employers could refuse to provide or pay for coverage of “specific items or services” if the coverage would be “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan.” Blunt and the bill’s supporters characterize the legislation as an attempt to restore religious freedoms taken away by the Obama administration’s “government health care takeover,” in Blunt’s words; opponents say the bill is an attack on women’s rights and an effort to ban contraception. Blunt said during the debate of the bill: “This amendment does not mention any procedure of any kind. The word ‘contraception’ is not in there because it’s not about a specific procedure. It’s about a faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees.” McConnell says the bill is an attempt to fight for “religious liberty,” which he and others say is under attack by the White House and Congressional Democrats. The Obama administration’s health care policy requires organizations to cover the cost of contraception, but does not require religious establishments to cover the cost. Employees of religious establishments can still obtain contraception from the health care insurance company. Mitt Romney (R-MA), a Republican presidential candidate, first stated his opposition to the bill, then quickly reversed course and said he was for it. The only Senate Republican to vote against the bill is Olympia Snowe (R-ME), widely considered a moderate Republican; three conservative Democrats vote for the bill. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), considered a strong candidate to run as the Republican vice-presidential nominee in the 2012 elections, says the Senate’s refusal to pass the bill is “a setback for religious freedoms in America.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls the bill a straightforward effort to ban contraception. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote in a recent op-ed, “Instead of coming together to fix our economy and strengthen the middle class, the Senate is considering a measure so extreme that it would allow any employer—religious or secular—to deny their employees coverage of any preventive service, including contraception, mammograms—anything the employer deems unfit to be covered.” Senator Patty Murray (D-MA) says, “The Senate will not allow women’s health care choices to be taken away from them.” Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) says Republicans are attacking women’s health care as part of “a systematic war against women.” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had asked the Senate to reject the proposal, saying, “The Obama administration believes that decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss.” Dr. Hal C. Lawrence of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came out against the amendment, saying contraception “improves and saves babies’ lives, improves maternal health, and can be life-saving for women with serious medical problems.” The American Cancer Society released a statement opposing the amendment, saying it would allow employers to deny coverage of life-saving preventive services like mammograms and smoking cessation programs based on “undefined religious beliefs or moral convictions.” [New York Times, 3/1/2012; The State, 3/1/2012; The Week, 3/2/2012] After the bill is voted down, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh vilifies Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who was not allowed to testify before a House committee meeting debating the bill [Think Progress, 2/16/2012] , calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating the free availability of contraception (see February 29, 2012). Fluke gave her testimony before a panel of House Democrats and posted it on YouTube, where she discussed the needs of young women who use birth control and other contraceptives for medical needs such as cancer prevention. Specifically, she cites the example of a friend who needed, and was unable to obtain, birth control pills to manage polycystic ovarian syndrome. [Think Progress, 2/16/2012] Democrats and others criticized committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) for only allowing men to testify before the House Oversight Committee on the topic of female contraception. It was Issa’s decision to bar Fluke from testifying before the committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said at the time: “The Republican leadership of this Congress thinks it’s appropriate to have a hearing on women’s health and purposely exclude women from the panel. I may at some point be moved to explain biology to my colleagues.” Issa only allowed committee Democrats to name one witness; they named Fluke, whom Issa barred from testifying as she was “unqualified” to speak. [Daily Mail, 2/17/2012]

Entity Tags: Kirsten Gillibrand, Kathleen Sebelius, Darrell E. Issa, Charles Schumer, Barbara Mikulski, American Cancer Society, Willard Mitt Romney, US Senate, Rush Limbaugh, Hal C. Lawrence, Olympia Snowe, Obama administration, Nancy Pelosi, Patty Murray, Mitch McConnell, Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio, Sandra Fluke

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

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