Senate kills 'conscience' amendment

March 1, 2012 at 1:11 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Thursday killed a Republican amendment allowing employers to opt out of healthcare coverage with which they disagree on moral grounds.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was the Senate Republicans' response to the controversy over a recent Obama administration directive on the type of healthcare coverage employers, including religious institutions, must provide.

The vote to table the measure was 51-48 and largely along party lines, The Washington Post reported.

The report said the amendment was the most sweeping of several attempts in Congress to broaden the Obama administration's religious exemption in the birth control rule. The administration rule only fully exempts expressly religious organizations such as churches from the requirement employee health plans include free contraceptive coverage. In such cases, insurance companies, not the religious institutions, will have to provide the coverage directly.

The Blunt amendment would have extended the exemption beyond Catholic schools, hospitals and churches.

Last month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius issued an interim rule mandating health insurance plans for all employers, including religiously affiliated institutions, include coverage for birth control, sterilization and other preventive services, raising the hackles of Catholic church leaders and members of the Republican Party.

In response to the uproar, Obama later announced a modification to the rule, saying women will have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services, but if a woman's employer objects to birth control for religious reasons, then the insurance company will be required to offer the woman contraceptive care directly.

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