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Blunt, McCaskill continue differences over contraception controversy

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 10, 2012 - Missouri's two U.S. senators remain on opposing sides in the controversy over contraceptive coverage, even in the wake of the Obama administration's attempt at compromise.

The compromise will allow religious-affiliated institutions to opt out of coverage for contraceptives for employees but will require their insurers to offer the coverage directly to the employee at no cost.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., calls it "a common-sense solution,'' but Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., blasts the change as "an accounting gimmick."

McCaskill, a Catholic, initially posted a Tweet: "Glad this got worked out today. Women get access to birth control, and Catholic Health Assoc agrees with new policy."

Later, she expanded on her views in a statement: "This is a common-sense solution that protects the rights of women to access basic birth control, while respecting the rights of religious organizations. I'm glad this got worked out. If you're someone who believes strongly in preventing abortions, like I do, then it only makes sense that we ensure women have equal and universal access to birth control, regardless of where they work."

But Blunt made clear he disagreed.

"It's still clear that President (Barack) Obama does not understand this isn't about cost -- it's about who controls the religious views of faith-based institutions. President Obama believes that he should have that control. Our Constitution states otherwise," Blunt said.

"Just because you can come up with an accounting gimmick and pretend like religious institutions do not have to pay for the mandate, does not mean that you've satisfied the fundamental constitutional freedoms that all Americans are guaranteed," Blunt continued. "I'll continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that we reverse this unconstitutional mandate in its entirety."

Blunt made his first attempt at reversal on Thursday, with a failed effort to tack such an amendment onto the federal highway reauthorization bill. Senate leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blocked the move.

Later Friday, St. Louis businessman John Brunner -- one of three Republicans seeking to unseat McCaskill this fall -- issued a statement decrying the administration's action.

"Obama's announcement that his administration is providing an 'accommodation' for religious institutions on the HHS contraceptives mandate is a ridiculous attempt to try and have it both ways in an election year," Brunner said. "...The Obama-McCaskill 'accommodation' provides no real change in policy, just a change in the messenger. The policy still mandates that religious institutions with conscience objections provide health coverage that includes contraceptives, sterilization, and medication that induces abortion.

"It further assaults economic freedom by mandating a 'free' benefit that must be provided by insurers," Brunner added. "In no way does this 'accommodation' alleviate the central issue: Forcing religious institutions to provide health coverage that violates their First Amendment rights is unconstitutional and must not stand.  I call on Senator Claire McCaskill to repudiate this misguided assault on our liberties...."