It was a purely symbolic move when the Missouri House passed a resolution this week decrying the Obama administration’s mandate that health insurance policies include birth-control coverage.
But it still managed to spark outrage from a group of seven female Democratic lawmakers, who said they were denied a chance to speak on an issue that affects them.
“These women stood and waited to be recognized for two hours,” said Rep. Tishaura Jones, a St. Louis Democrat. “They never got a chance to speak on an issue that is unique to women.”
Republicans pushed the resolution, arguing that the president’s policy — announced as part of the federal health care law —– violates a constitutional right to religious freedom, since many religious groups object to the use of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
Democrats countered that the issue was really about women’s health, not religion.
“Republicans need to stop this war on women,” said Margo McNeil, a St. Louis County Democrat.
Republican Rep. John Diehl of St. Louis County, who was presiding over the House during debate on the proposal, called the allegations that he ignored Democratic women ridiculous.
“There are 163 members in the House,” he said. “Every one of them can’t speak on every bill. It would take days if we did that.”
After several hours of discussion Wednesday, and with seven female Democrats still hoping to speak against the bill, Republicans cut off debate and forced a vote.
The resolution passed 114-45 with the help of 12 Democrats.
Diehl pointed out that several women on both sides of the aisle got a chance to speak before the debate was ended. Overall, he said, more Democrats were recognized to speak than Republicans.
The Obama administration’s policy has ignited a fierce and emotional debate across the nation, with similar scenes being played out in Washington, D.C., where House Republicans took testimony on the contraception issue from an all-male panel.
Democrats struck back Thursday, even though Congress technically wasn’t in session, with a “hearing” on the contraception issue featuring one female witness.
The issue also is headed to federal court.
Seven states filed suit Thursday, alleging the rule would effectively force religious employers and organizations to drop health insurance coverage, which would raise enrollment in state Medicaid programs and increase patient numbers at state-subsidized hospitals and medical centers.
They hope a federal judge will block it from going into effect.
The seven states are Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, said the administration’s regulation “forces millions of Americans to choose between following religious convictions and complying with federal law.”
“We will not stand idly by while our constitutionally guaranteed liberties are discarded by an administration that has sworn to uphold them,” Bruning said.
The Missouri Senate responded to the controversy with a bill of its own to allow secular employers to refuse to provide health insurance coverage for birth control, abortions and sterilization procedures.
But facing fierce opposition from Democrats, the bill never came up for a vote.
In January the Obama administration announced that church-affiliated institutions would get an additional year to meet a new rule to cover birth control free of charge.
Administration officials said the ruling was carefully considered after reviewing more than 200,000 comments from interested parties and the public. The extension, they said, responds to concerns raised by religious employers about making adjustments.
Administration officials stressed that individual decisions about whether to use birth control, and what kind, remained in the hands of women and their doctors.