For a brief moment yesterday it looked as though some GOP senators were ready to step back from the ledge, and reject their party's assault on women's rights. A handful of Republican senators were hesitant to endorse the controversial Blunt amendment, which would allow any employer—both secular and religious—to reject covering individual aspects of health insurance they find morally questionable, not just contraception. Even Mitt Romney expressed opposition to the bill when an Ohio reporter explained the implications before his campaign quickly realized they had defied party doctrine, and issued a clarification, which reversed Romney's earlier statement.
Any qualms with the legislation evaporated when it was put to a vote this morning. The measure failed 51-48, but Republicans voted with their usual lockstep discipline. Soon retiring Senator Olympia Snowe was the lone Republican opposing the measure and three Democrats—Ben Nelson, Joe Manchin, and Bob Casey—crossed the aisles to join Republicans' attack on women's health rights.
Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are among the few Republicans who position themselves as pro-choice, but joined the rest of their caucus today to vote in favor of the amendment. Once again Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has displayed an ability to whip his caucus members into line, unimaginable for any current Democratic leader. For Collins' part, here's how she described her decision, per The Huffington Post:
"I feel I have to vote for the Blunt amendment with the hope that its scope will be further narrowed and refined as the legislative process proceeds," she said. "I do this with a lot of conflict, because I think the amendment does have its flaws, but when the administration cannot even assure me that self-insured faith-based organizations' religious freedom is protected, I feel I have no choice."
The dispute has never truly been about claims for religious freedom. The administration has written the rules such that religiously affiliated organizations won't need to directly address their disgust with birth control, leaving that icky matter solely as a discussion between women and the insurance companies. Instead, the concerns are about the very concept of birth control itself, with the Republican Party hijacked by an extremist wing that objects to any sexual activity outside of marital, procreative intercourse. And after today's vote, Democrats have almost every Republican senator on record as siding with these fringe views.