Are Republicans Backing Away from the Contraception Fight?

Senate Democrats think they have Republicans backed into a corner. In response to the hullabaloo around the Obama administration's decision on covering contraception in health-care plans, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has offered an amendment to allow any employer—not just religiously affiliated organizations—to refuse to cover any health-care service—not just contraception—based on "religious beliefs or moral convictions." The battle over reproductive rights has already allowed Democrats to paint Republicans as antagonistic to women and, needless to say, Senate Dems are gleefully forcing a vote on the measure tomorrow to get their opponents' extremist take on the record.

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent checked in with a few Republican senators and found that some are hesitant to endorse the amendment ahead of tomorrow's vote:

A spokesman for Senator Susan Collins confirms to me she’s still undecided — with less than 24 hours until tomorrow’s vote.

On MSBNC just now, Senator Olympia Snowe confirmed she’ll oppose the measure, echoing the Dem argument against it: “It’s much broader than I could support.” Snowe announced yesterday that she’s retiring out of frustration over “partisanship,” which has led to some (unconfirmed) speculation among Democratic aides that the Blunt amendment is one reason why.

Senator Dean Heller’s campaign has said he hasn’t yet taken a position. Senator Lisa Murkowski appears to be undecided, but the quote she gave to The New York Times suggests she’s pretty irked over having to deal with this right now. “I don’t know where we are going with this issue,” she said. “We’ve got way too much else to be doing.”

Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Lisa Murkowsi are all pro-choice, so it's not too surprising that they might stand up for women's rights and oppose the amendment. But Dean Heller is pro-life; he has sided against abortion rights since he joined Congress, voting 100 percent with the National Right to Life Committee in 2009.

If Republicans like Heller are weighing a vote against the bill, it might be a sign that the party has finally taken note that its moralizing is alienating voters. Polls show that a large majority of Americans support birth control, and a majority also supports the president's rules on including contraception as a mandatory part of health insurance. 

Rick Santorum's declining popularity also offers a warning. Michiganders had a largely favorable opinion of Santorum earlier this month, and he had a double-digit lead as a result. But as Santorum began to harp against the evils of contraception and express disgust about the separation between church and state, his net favorability dropped 29 percent. Rather than displacing Romney as the front-runner, Santorum lost by 3 percent. It's a lesson that the rest of his party should be wary of before engaging in social demagoguing.

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