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Senate to vote on controversial contraception amendment

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Posted at 10:42 AM, Mar 01, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-01 10:42:21-05
By Dan Merica, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Senate is set to vote Thursday on a controversial amendment pushed by Senate Republicans that would allow employers to opt out of healthcare coverage they disagree with on moral grounds.

The so-called “conscience” amendment, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), is the Senate Republicans response to the simmering controversy over a recent Obama administration decision to mandate the type of healthcare coverage religious employers are required to provide.

“This bill would just simply say that those health care providers don’t have to follow that mandate if it violates their faith principles,” stated an early February press release from Blunt. “This is about the First Amendment. It’s about religious beliefs. It’s not about any one issue.”

Earlier this month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius issued a directive that would have required all employers, including religious organizations, to provide contraception to their employees. Representatives from many faiths abhor the decision, calling it a violation of their religious conscience.

In response to the uproar, the White House backed off the directive and instead said that insurers must cover birth control if the employer opts not to.

Originally Blunt has hoped the bill would be voted on in early February, around the same time the Senate was debating a $109 billion transportation bill. The amendment was tacked on to the transportation bill, causing the bills supporter, like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to rule the amendments not germane.

This, though, stalled the legislation.

“My colleague Senator McConnell has insisted this measure get a vote on the senate floor before we can move ahead with this jobs bill,” Reid told reporter on Tuesday.

In an effort to break the stalemate, however, Reid announced on Tuesday that the Senate would vote on the Blunt amendment.

“Once we have put this extreme and distracting proposal behind us, I hope my Republican colleagues will stop living in the past and join us this year, 2012, and help us create jobs,” Reid said.

Blunt, though, welcomed the vote by tweeting, “Glad Sen. Reid is going to allow a vote on my bipartisan admt to protect religious freedom this Thursday. #HHSMandate.”

By moving on the amendment, Reid is forcing everyone in the Senate to take a stand on the controversial contraception decision. Though many Republicans have come out in support of the bill, retiring Republican Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine told MSNBC the amendment is “much broader than I could support.”

Not all Democrats are united against the amendment, though. Sen. Joe Manchin (D -W.Va.) issued a statement on Wednesday that said the he would vote in favor of the measure.

“I am voting in favor of this measure to protect the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America,” Manchin said in a statement.

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