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Catholic furor over birth control rule turns Democrats on one another

The Catholic Church's anger over a proposed federal rule to force church-affiliated organizations to offer health plans covering birth control has provided Republicans with an opportunity – and Democrats with a problem. 

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) of New York, a Catholic, has backed the proposed rule that would force Catholic church-affiliated organizations to offer health plans that cover birth control. But other Catholic Democrats have asked President Obama to back off the rule.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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So what does contraception at a Catholic hospital or college have to do with a $109 billion highway bill?

Nothing, it would seem.  

But US senators can propose amendments on any subject. And the Obama administration’s proposed rule requiring church-affiliated organizations to provide health insurance that covers contraception has turned toxic.

It has thrown the White House back on defense after a rare spike of good economic news. It’s also dividing Democratic ranks at a time when both the White House and top Democratic leaders are urging a display of unity.

And that brings us back to the highway bill.

Senate Republicans wanted to get a vote on the matter as soon as possible. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri, would allow employers the right to provide employees with health coverage “consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions,” without risk of federal penalties.

“This bill would just simply say that those health-care providers don’t have to follow that mandate if it violates their faith principles,” said Senator Blunt in a floor speech on Thursday.

The measure, cosponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, prompted an objection by Senate majority leader Harry Reid, which blocked a floor vote.

“Republicans never lose an opportunity to mess up a good piece of legislation,” he said.

“They’re talking about a First Amendment right and I appreciate that,… but there’s no final rule," he said, suggesting that the rule is not yet set in stone. "Why don’t we just calm down and see what the final rule is.”

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