Over the weekend, Senator 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 were coming unglued because of Sen. Murkowski’s support for a measure that would have allowed any employer to opt out of providing health insurance coverage.
She’s a moderate. She supports abortion rights and contraception coverage. She regretted her recent vote.
“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.
The vote came last week during a heated debate about the new health care law’s requirement that employers offer insurance that covers birth control. At first, only churches were exempt from the rule. Republicans, along with Catholic and other religious groups, objected, saying the rule trampled on religious liberties.
Because of their objections, the Obama administration changed the rule to allow religiously affiliated organizations to exclude birth control from their plans. In those cases, insurance companies would offer the coverage directly to women.
Sen. Murkowski was among the Republicans who supported religious organizations’ position before the compromise was announced. She sponsored legislation to reverse parts of the health care measure and aligned herself with the church in a letter, writing:
Unfortunately, the Obama administration unilaterally determined that religious hospitals, charities and schools will be required to go against their deeply-held — and constitutionally-protected — beliefs when offering health care services to current employees.
After the compromise announcement, she didn’t speak publicly about her position.
Sen. Murkowski said she voted for the Blunt Amendment 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, it looked like a vote against contraception. The language of the amendment was “overbroad,” she said.
Sen. Murkowski said she believes contraception should be covered and affordable, except when it comes to churches and religiously affiliated organizations. She sponsored a contraception coverage bill as a state legislator in 2002. That bill exempted “religious employers.” She said her position hasn’t changed.
“I have always said if you don’t like abortion the best way to deal with it is to not have unwanted pregnancies in the first place,” she says. “How do you do that? It’s through contraception.”