By a narrow margin of 51 to 48, the Senate today voted to “table” the Blunt Amendment, effectively killing it. For now.
The amendment, named for Missouri GOP Senator Roy Blunt and attached to a Senate transportation bill, arose out of the fight over the birth control mandate, but went even further. Blunt would have given employers sweeping authority to decide the kinds of basic health services to be covered by insurance plans, enabling any individual employer, religious entity, corporation, or health plan to refuse to cover any health care service to which they objected even on vague “moral” grounds, including, for example, screening for cervical and breast cancer, contraception, maternity care, HPV vaccines, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS.
Three Democrats voted against tabling–or in other words for–the Blunt Amendment: Senators Bob Casey (PA), Ben Nelson (NE), and Joe Manchin (WV). Let’s just say none of these men have a history of supporting women’s basic health care or rights, and Casey and Nelson both have gone out of their way in the past to undermine women’s access to care. Nelson proved that this wasn’t even just a craven election ploy, since he is in any case retiring from the Senate.
The only Republican who voted to table or kill the amendment was Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who also just this week announced her retirement from the Senate, citing the high levels of partisanship and gridlock.
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The Blunt Amendment was just the most recent salvo in a war over women’s health and rights that, as detailed by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in her remarks on the floor, has been waged since the January 2009 battle over the stimulus and in virtually every single budget, deficit reduction, transportation, and defense bill since then. But it came high on the heels of efforts by the fundamentalist religious right in the United States, led by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and groups like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and others, to undermine women’s access to primary reproductive health care under health reform.
After the vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi noted:
“It’s not ironic, but, rather, tragic, that on the day we kick off Women’s History Month, the Senate debates this devastating legislation to put at risk health care for millions of women, including the 20 million women already benefiting from preventive health services guaranteed under health reform. But it’s just the latest ploy in the Republican agenda of disrespecting the health of American women.”
“Women and families across America can breathe a sigh of relief that this radical amendment was blocked by Senate Democrats today, said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
“It was absolutely appalling that Republicans forced us to spend days and days dealing with contraception and women’s health, but I am hopeful that we can now get back to work on legislation to create jobs and invest in communities across America.
“It was shameful, but not surprising. Republicans have clearly realized that if the conversation is about jobs and the economy, they lose. So they’ve made a concerted effort in this election year to attack women’s health care in an attempt to change the subject and rile up their extreme right-wing base. They seem to believe that their path to victory on Election Day runs straight through the women’s health clinic.
But, as Murray noted, “Republicans may have lost this battle, but there’s no indication that they are going to give up attacking women’s health as a political strategy.
“So I want to make it very clear,” she continued, “we will continue standing up for women, for families, and for their health care needs. We want to get back to work to create jobs and boost the economy, but we stand ready to fight back against amendments like this as long as Republicans keep bringing them up.”
Women’s rights and health groups also praised the outcome of the vote. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health praised the Senate for “upholding Latino/as’ right to health care, including contraceptive services.”
“This extreme proposal would have resulted in drastically unequal care and increased disparities in health care access for low-income women, Latinas and people of color who already face barriers to care,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of NLIRH. “We believe that women, no matter where they work, deserve access to quality health care and preventive services.”
“Access to birth control without co-pays, as well as to other preventive services, is crucial to the long-term health of Latinas,” González-Rojas said. “Women deserve the right to decide the timing and spacing of their families, and today the Senate protected that.”