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In a tight 51-48 vote, the Senate blocked the Republican-backed Blunt Amendment Thursday afternoon. This amendment, which was tacked onto an unrelated transportation bill, would have effectively given employers and health insurance companies the right to deny their employees coverage of just about anything based on any moral objection.

All this comes hot on the heels of recent debates that have already forced the White House to modify its 2010 Affordable Health Care Act. It now permits religious affiliated institutions to forgo contraceptive coverage, and instead allows female employees the option of obtaining coverage for contraceptives directly from insurers (at no cost). 

Republicans have claimed this move is a violation of the First Amendment's assurance of religious freedom, and were seeking broader definition in the Blunt Amendment. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), who introduced the amendment said that: “This debate is not about any one group or set of beliefs. The Obama Administration’s mandate violates Americans’ First Amendment rights.” 

On the other hand, Democrats have been framing the debate differently, highlighting the amendments infringement upon women’s health rights and disregard for personal liberties. The amendment effectively gives an employer authority over an individual’s health.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated: “Mr. President, if this amendment passes, it would ban contraception coverage for any woman in America whose boss has a personal objection to it. This measure would force women to surrender control of their own health decisions to their bosses. That concept, it is not merely quaint or old-fashioned. It is dangerous and wrong.”

The Affordable Health Care Act is not forcing women to adopt birth control plans, but is rather giving those who want the option, the availability of coverage. While some claim inclusion of coverage an intrusion on religious freedom, how is denying coverage not an intrusion on women’s health?

The Blunt Amendment was a foolish move to thwart Obama’s efforts and was clearly too broad to be adopted. If the amendment had been passed, an employer could have effectively denied any employee access to just about any health initiative, which would have clearly been an unwise and dangerous move.

Despite Republicans claims that this amendment is not solely about women’s health, it is undeniable to even the most ardent Catholic that this plays directly into the continued contraceptive debate. What’s especially dangerous is that yet again, women’s basic health rights (don’t forget birth control is used to regulate numerous health issues for women in addition to contraception) are being used as a pawn in a political game as both sides of the aisle jump on this topic as we approach yet another election. When will Congress stop using women’s health as a wager in this political game?

Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service