House Republicans Revive The Contraception Wars

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They’re back!

This spring’s political contretemps over access to contraception are returning to Capitol Hill — and this time Republicans are trying to tie the issue to must-pass legislation, foreshadowing a possible government shutdown standoff unless conservatives back down and temporarily agree to set aside earlier grievances.

House Republicans renewed their effort Wednesday by advancing a measure through the Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee with a rider to roll back President Obama’s contraception mandate. Authorized by the Affordable Care Act, the rule requires employer-provided health insurance plans to cover contraception without co-pays, with carve-outs for churches and religious non-profits. Republicans on the panel defeated a Democratic amendment to strip the provision, suggesting they’re willing to pick the fight.“The Affordable Care Act guaranteed that all insurance plans cover preventive services without cost sharing, including basic services such as HPV screening, vaccines, HIV/AIDS screening, and contraceptives,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), who tried to have the provision removed. “It is unacceptable that House Republicans continue to go out of their way to deny women basic healthcare.”

The measure appears before the full appropriations committee next week and would give necessary funding to some of the largest government departments beyond Sept. 30. It would additionally slash health programs, family planning, and boost abstinence-only education.

“This bill is about making tough choices, setting priorities and doing the right thing,” said subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) in a statement. “By reining in spending and controlling over-regulation, this bill supports job creation and economic recovery.”

Rehberg is currently running to unseat Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in November.

Senate Republicans have clearly indicated their preference for avoiding the fight altogether, and extending funding for government programs through the election at levels the parties agreed upon during last August debt limit fight. Under pressure, the House GOP leadership appears to be warming to that idea, lest they be held accountable for inciting a government shutdown weeks before Election Day.

If House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) corrals his members to support a stopgap spending measure, that will put the birth control issue — and other controversies — to rest. But if House conservatives reject that and push ahead with riders and spending cuts, it will spark a showdown with the Senate, isolating House Republicans and leaving them to choose between caving or shutting down the government.

Republicans took a beating earlier this year after their failed push to roll back Obama’s contraception rule in its entirety, a battle that yielded significant gains for President Obama among women voters. The GOP eventually backed off, recognizing the toxicity of the issue. Various rank and file Republicans still feel strongly about rescinding the rule, and appear to have gotten the better of leadership for now.

Image from Shutterstock.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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