This was a vote on a Republican-sponsored amendment aimed at weakening a new rule proposed as part of the landmark health reform law. In an effort to expand access to health care services, the Obama Administration had proposed requiring health insurance policies to offer some preventive services, such as contraceptives, at no additional cost. Religious institutions like the Catholic Church would have received a pass, but Republicans and some religious groups argued that this exemption was too narrow and would force some employers or insurers to offer access to medical care that violated their moral principles.
An amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) took aim at the Obama Administration rule. Sen. Blunt’s amendment would have allowed any employer or insurer – not just those affiliated with religious organizations – to refuse on moral grounds to cover any medical service or procedure.
“This is about the First Amendment. It’s about religious beliefs,” Sen. Blunt said. “This bill would just simply say that those health care providers don't have to follow that mandate if it violates their faith principles, and whether it's faith principles that are part of a health care delivery system that could be through any number of different faith groups – and I’ve talked to a lot of them.”
Opponents of Sen. Blunt’s amendment argued that it would have undermined the effort to expand access to birth control and other preventive health services. They noted that the bill’s broad exemptions – any employer or insurer would have been exempt from covering nearly any medical care – would provide a massive loophole that could be used to deny necessary care to millions of Americans.
“How many people have struggled with their insurance companies to get them to cover what they have paid for for years and years and years, only to have the insurance company say, ‘Sorry, sue us?’” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said. “Now Mr. Blunt is giving insurance companies a way to say, ‘Oh, we feel sorry that you have cancer; we are sad you have diabetes; we are torn apart you might have a stroke, but you know what? We have a moral objection to the kind of therapies that are out there today, so we are sorry.’ That is what the Blunt amendment does.”
Senate Roll Call 24 was a vote on a motion to “table” Sen. Blunt’s amendment, a procedural maneuver that essentially kills the amendment. The motion was passed by a vote of 51-48. Voting “yea” were 50 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 1 Republican. Voting “nay” were 45 Republicans and 3 Democrats. As a result, Sen. Blunt’s amendment failed, paving the way for the Obama Administration to move forward with a rule designed to expand access to contraceptives and other preventive health care.