An amendment to ensure religious freedom against the recent federal contraception mandate was voted down in the Senate with the help of 13 Catholic politicians March 1.
Of the 24 Catholic members of the U.S. Senate, 13 Democrats opposed the amendment while 11 Republicans and 3 Democrats supported it.
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), expressed his disappointment with the bill's narrow defeat, but said the “fight is not over” and that he would continue to work to protect the First Amendment.
Chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops committee on religious freedom, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., said that he would continue working to “build on this base of support” to defend conscience rights, which is the “most critical issue before our country right now.”
The Senate voted 51-48 on Thursday to “table” the proposed amendment, effectively killing it by preventing an up-or-down vote on the amendment itself.
In voting down the Blunt amendment, the U.S. Senate has taken “the unprecedented step to deny our religious liberties” president of Catholic Advocate, Matt Smith, said in a March 1 press release.
The proposed amendment would have allowed health care providers to opt out of providing coverage that violates their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
Senators Bob Casey (D.-Penn.), Joe Manchin (D.- W. Va.) and Ben Nelson (D.-Neb.) were the minority of Senate Democrats in their support for the amendment.
Although he “strongly” supports contraceptives and has voted to provide funding for them in the past, Casey said he believes that “religiously affiliated institutions should not be forced by their governments to violate their beliefs.”
Obama's Feb. 10 accommodation “does not go far enough to ensure that this ruling doesn't infringe upon religious liberties” Casey said.
Those who opposed the amendment said it contained “dangerously broad language” which could potentially limit healthcare to women and children, John Kerry (D-Mass.) said.
Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who voted against the amendment, said it would undermine “women's ability to access basic healthcare.”
As it stands, the contraception mandate – first announced Jan. 22 and amended Feb.10 – would force employers to buy insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, even if doing so violates their conscience.
The 13 Catholic senators who voted to table the amendment are Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).