Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) okay with new rule, as is Sen. Susan Collins

We know that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has rejected the new compromise policy on birth control access, and that the Republican leadership agrees with them. But does that mean they have a chance to shift policy legislatively? The chances of that took a severe blow today, when Maine Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins came out in favor of the Obama Administration’s new rules. (h/t ThinkProgress)

“It appears that changes have been made that provide women’s health services without compelling Catholic organizations in particular to violate the beliefs and tenets of their faith,” Snowe said in a statement. “According to the Catholic Health Association, the administration ‘responded to the issues [they] identified that needed to be fixed,’ which is what I urged the president to do in addressing this situation.

“While I will carefully review the details of the president’s revised proposal, it appears to be a step in the right direction,” Collins said in a statement. “The administration’s original plan was deeply flawed and clearly would have posed a threat to religious freedom. It presented the Catholic Church with its wide-ranging social, educational, and health care services, and many other faith-based organizations, with an impossible choice between violating their religious beliefs or violating federal regulations. The administration has finally listened to the concerns raised by many and appears to be seeking to avoid the threat to religious liberties posed by its original plan.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R. Maine) also supports the rule (photo: Remy Steinegger)

Basically, Snowe and Collins aligned themselves with the Catholic Hospital Association, which blessed the compromise, rather than the bishops, who favor the elimination of the birth control mandate entirely. This makes a legislative shift on the mandate virtually impossible; the numbers just don’t add up. And there are three other Republican women in the Senate (Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas), some whom in the past have supported insurance coverage of contraceptives, who have yet to take a public statement on the Administration’s new accommodation.

It’s definitely worth talking about the corrosive effect of allowing the Catholic clergy to drive policy changes, especially on issues of sexuality considering their recent history, but as a matter of whether more can be done through Congress, that looks to be a dead letter.

David Dayen

David Dayen