Over the weekend, Sen. Lisa Murkowski learned the hard way not to get between women and birth control. Back from Washington, D.C., for the start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, the senator kept running into female voters who wrote in her name in the last election — moderate women who did not always vote Democrat or Republican. These women were coming unglued.
The reason: Murkowski’s support for a measure that would have allowed not just religious employers, but any employer, to opt out of providing birth control or other health insurance coverage required by the 2010 health-care law for moral reasons.
“I have never had a vote I’ve taken where I have felt that I let down more people that believed in me,” she said.
She’d meant to make a statement about religious freedom, she said, but voters read it as a vote against contraception coverage for women. The measure was so broad, it’s hard not to read it that way. I suspect Murkowski saw that, but for reasons she didn’t share with me, voted for it anyway.
But when I talked to Murkowski, her position had softened. She said she voted for the Blunt Amendment (proposed by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt), to send a message that the health care law needed a stronger clause for religious conscience. It was supposed to be a vote for religious freedom, she said, but to female voters back home it looked like a vote against contraception. The language of the amendment was “overbroad,” she said.
“If you had it to do over again, having had the weekend that you had with women being upset about the vote, do you think you would have voted the same?” I asked.
“No,” she said.
She called the Blunt Amendment a “messaging amendment” that “both sides know is not going to pass.”
I asked if during her weekend in Anchorage, she’d thought at all about Rush Limbaugh, who recently said a lot of unsavory things about a Georgetown University student testifying for birth control coverage, including that she was expecting taxpayers to pay for her to have sex.
“I think women when they hear … mouthpieces like that say things like that they get concerned and they look to policymakers,” she said. “That’s where I feel like I have let these women down is that I have not helped to give these women the assurance they need that their health care rights are protected.”
I’m just going to give you the text of the Blunt Amendment again, because the truth is Murkowski didn’t protect anyone.
providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor,issuer, or other entity offering the plan;
“Overly broad” is an understatement. The amendment she vocally supported and voted for would allow any employer to assert any religious or moral objection to any provision of health insurance coverage.
The amendment she voted for would have gutted federal (and state law) guarantees people in her state have now, regarding mandated health insurance coverage. She took people in Alaska backward, to less health care security. There is absolutely nothing in that amendment that would have barred any employer from declining to cover a whole range of health care services to a whole range of people. When Blunt was questioned on this, his one and only “assurance” was that federal courts would sort out what was a religious or moral objection. That’s an admission that the amendment itself offered no protection, and, again, these are protections people have now, under current federal and state law.
Murkowski regrets her vote because she’s finding out it’s politically unpopular. Did she not read and understand the amendment? What happens the next time she wants to “send a message” and actually passes a law?