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Blunt Amendment Tabled: Casey, Manchin, Nelson Cross Over

The Senate voted to table the Blunt amendment today, but several Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans and for an amendment that would give employers effective control over the medical procedures their employees could access.

The final vote was 51-48. Sen. Roy Blunt proposed the legislation, which would let employers decide to block access to medical coverage if they had a moral objection, as an amendment to the surface transportation bill. But it overshadowed the larger bill almost entirely, the result of a campaign by Catholic bishops to stop the Obama Administration’s new birth control access rules. Ben Nelson, Joe Manchin and Bob Casey crossed the aisle and voted against tabling the bill. Olympia Snowe voted with the Democrats to table the bill, but for the most part, Republicans held firm. One member did not vote or voted “present,” I’ll have to track that down… UPDATE: Mark Kirk, who’s in the hospital recuperating from the effects of a stroke, didn’t vote.

This means that threatened incumbents like Dean Heller and Scott Brown, both of whom will likely face female challengers in November, voted to allow employers to block access to legal medical procedures, in particular women’s health care. Because of the way the vote has been structured, as a motion to table the amendment, Heller and Brown could say that they merely wanted to have the debate rather than to table the bill, but Brown, at least, has been outspoken on the amendment, on the grounds of religious freedom.

It’s been good to see, finally, some pushback from the Democrats on this religious freedom red herring. The President’s campaign weighed in on their Tumblr page with this sentiment:

“If Mitt Romney and a few Republican senators get their way, employers could be making women’s health care decisions for them.”

That’s closer to what you want to say about this. The amendment put no restriction on employers and would have allowed them to completely undermine health care for the people who work for them.

Democrats may be giddy about getting Heller and Brown to line up against women on this vote; surely Shelley Berkley and Elizabeth Warren will have a lot to say about that for the next eight months. The defections in their own ranks should cause some alarm, however. It shows that the late framing of this issue led to unnecessary vulnerabilities.

Still, the Blunt amendment is no more, and birth control, incredibly, has become a legitimate subject for debate in America. I hope America’s women are watching.

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David Dayen

David Dayen