Senate defeats bill to reverse birth control rule

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by LAURIE KELLMAN

Associated Press

Posted on March 1, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 1 at 2:01 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican effort to roll back President Barack Obama's policy on contraception insurance coverage in the first vote on an issue that raised questions of religious and women's rights and riled Americans in this volatile election year.

The 51-48 vote killed an amendment that would have allowed employers and insurers to opt out of portions of the president's health care law they found morally objectionable. That would have included the law's requirement that insurers cover the costs of birth control. Obama's Democrats said the measure would have allowed employers and insurers to opt out of virtually any medical treatment with the mere mention of a moral or religious objection.

Republicans argued that the law needs to be reversed because it violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom by forcing insurers and employers to pay for contraception even if their faith forbids its use. Democrats said the amendment, Mo, was an assault on women's rights and could be used to cancel virtually any part of the law.

Both parties were using the issue to rally their bases; Republicans sought to hold together conservatives and others in the midst of an unsettled battle for the presidential nomination. And for Obama, there is no constituency more crucial to his re-election chances than women.

In the end, the vote hung on a handful of centrists as Democrats chose a parliamentary maneuver that required only 50 votes to kill the amendment. Its fate rested on a handful of centrists, but only three Democrats and one Republican defied their parties.

Both sides protested strenuously that an issue affecting millions of Americans was being used for political gain, but the debate was steeped in election-year strategy. The presidency and the congressional majorities are at stake, and Obama's contraception coverage policy is one of several cultural issues that have become prominent in U.S. political discourse this year.

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