VIR­GINIA

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by let­ting any busi­ness or insurer refuse to pro­vide any med­i­cal ser­vice.

The vote re­flected sharp par­ti­san di­vi­sions, with ev­ery Repub­li­can but one vot­ing in fa­vor of the amend­ment and all but three Democrats op­posed.

“The close­ness of this vote shows how high the stakes are for women this year,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat. “A Repub­li­can­led Se­nate might pass this bill, a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent like Mitt Rom­ney would def­i­nitely sign it. If Repub­li­cans keep this up, they’re go­ing to drive away in­de­pen­dent vot­ers.”

But Repub­li­cans in Congress and the pres­i­den­tial field ar­gue that the is­sue is re­li­gious free­dom and noted that the amend­ment does noth­ing more than re­store the sta­tus quo, circa 2009.

“Re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions and per­sons will now be com­pelled by the state to vi­o­late their con­science,” said Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch, Utah Repub­li­can. “Prior to 2010 and the pas­sage of Oba­macare, the First Amend­ment was in­tact. Today, it is in tat­ters.”

The fight be­gan in Jan­uary af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion added all con­tra­cep­tives ap­proved by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion to the list of manda­tory pre­ven­tive ser­vices that in­sur­ance plans must cover with­out charg­ing co-pay­ments or de­ductibles.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fered churches an ex­emp­tion to di­rectly pay­ing for con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age and later ex­panded it to re­li­gious schools, hos­pi­tals and char­i­ties. Many re­li­gious lead­ers called the of­fers a book­keep­ing gim­mick. They pointed out that in­sur­ance com­pa­nies will sim­ply pass con­tra­cep­tion costs on to them and that many large re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions self-in­sure, thus would be forced to pay any­way.

While the leg­is­la­tion would have al­lowed em­ploy­ers to opt out, it still would have re­quired their in­sur­ance car­ri­ers with no ob­jec­tions to cover con­tra­cep­tives at no cost. It also wouldn’t have struck down dozens of state laws that re­quire in­sur­ers to cover con­tra­cep­tion.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this is only a glimpse of what Amer­i­cans can ex­pect as a re­sult of Pres­i­dent Obama’s gov­ern­ment health care takeover — which is why we need to re­peal and re­place this bill with com­mon-sense bi­par­ti­san so­lu­tions,” Mr. Blunt said. “This fight is not over.”

Democrats launched an all-out at­tack on the amend­ment this week, spend­ing hours blast­ing it from the Se­nate floor, warn­ing of re­fusals to cover blood trans­fu­sions or child­hood im­mu­niza­tions and say­ing that in­sur­ers could re­quire peo­ple to en­gage in faith heal­ing.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion called the amend­ment too broad, and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius called it “dan­ger­ous and wrong.”

“This pro­posal isn’t lim­ited to con­tra­cep­tion nor is it lim­ited to any pre­ven­ta­tive ser­vice,” Mrs. Se­be­lius said. “Any em­ployer could re­strict ac­cess to any ser­vice they say they ob­ject to. This is dan­ger­ous and wrong.”

That crit­i­cism was re­peated by out­side groups. Dr. Robert W. Block, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Pe­di­atrics, said the Blunt amend­ment “would have al­lowed em­ploy­ers to deny their em­ploy­ees ser­vices such as vac­ci­na­tions or blood trans­fu­sions, based solely on re­li­gious or moral be­liefs.”

Pro-life Democrats Ben Nel­son of Ne­braska, Robert P. Casey Jr. of Penn­syl­va­nia and Joe Manchin III of West Vir­ginia voted for the amend­ment, but some mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans ex­pressed con­cern over the leg­is­la­tion’s sweep­ing lan­guage. Re­tir­ing Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine voted against it, while her col­league Su­san M. Collins sup­ported it de­spite strong reser­va­tions.

Ms. Collins said she wrote a let­ter to the ad­min­is­tra­tion ask­ing for clarification on whether re­li­gious em­ploy­ers who self-in­sure also would be ex­empt from the man­date — but the ad­min­is­tra­tion was vague in its re­sponse. The ad­min­is­tra­tion also has for­mally writ­ten the ini­tial reg­u­la­tion into law but has not done the same for its pro­posed fixes.

“I do this with a lot of con­flict, be­cause I think the amend­ment does have its flaws,” she said. “But when the ad­min­is­tra­tion can­not even as­sure me that self-in­sured or­ga­ni­za­tions’ re­li­gious free­doms are pro­tected, I feel I have no choice.”

As the most vo­cal op­po­nent against the con­tra­cep­tion man­date, the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops vowed to con­tinue op­pos­ing the rule and said it is look­ing to sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion that House Repub­li­cans have in­di­cated they will ad­vance.

“We will con­tinue our strong de­fense of con­science rights through all avail­able le­gal means,” said Bishop Wil­liam E. Lori of Bridge­port, Conn. “Re­li­gious free­dom is at the heart of democ­racy and rooted in the dig­nity of ev­ery hu­man per­son. We will not rest un­til the pro­tec­tion of con­science rights is re­stored and the First Amend­ment is re­turned to its place of re­spect in the Bill of Rights.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, promised even­tual ac­tion on sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion, but didn’t set a timetable Thurs­day.

That left the is­sue to roil the po­lit­i­cal field, with par­ties and pres­sure groups on both sides of the aisle vow­ing to keep the is­sue at the fore­front of pub­lic dis­cus­sion un­til Novem­ber.

“We know this is just an at­tempt in a se­ries of at­tempts,” said Sen. Patty Mur­ray, Wash­ing­ton Demo­crat. “We heard from Sen. Blunt today that they’re go­ing to con­tinue to move for­ward, to go af­ter tak­ing away the abil­ity of women to make their own health care choices, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to con­tra­cep­tives. We’re go­ing to stand up, we’re go­ing to fight back.”

Terry O’neill, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women, vowed that “with­out ques­tion, the politi­cians who voted in fa­vor of Blunt’s amend­ment — whether fe­male or male, Repub­li­can or Demo­crat — will pay a price in the vot­ing booth.”

The Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have seized on the is­sue to cast doubt on Mr. Obama’s com­mit­ment to re­li­gious lib­erty. In a CNN pres­i­den­tial de­bate last month, for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney said the man­date was a con­tin­u­a­tion of the pres­i­dent’s at­tack on re­li­gion.

“I don’t think we’ve seen in the his­tory of this coun­try the kind of at­tack on re­li­gious con­science, re­li­gious free­dom, re­li­gious tol­er­ance that we’ve seen un­der Barack Obama,” Mr. Rom­ney said.

Mar­jorie Dan­nen­felser, pres­i­dent of the Su­san B. An­thony List, which sup­ports pro-life can­di­dates, said, “There will be con­se­quences in Novem­ber for se­na­tors in tight races who voted to kill this amend­ment with the ab­surd rea­son­ing that they are act­ing in the best in­ter­ests of women. Un­der­min­ing the re­li­gious lib­erty and con­science rights of women can never serve them.” home-school­ers in fu­ture years.

“It’s the camel’s nose un­der the tent,” he said.

The bill, spon­sored by Del­e­gate Robert B. Bell, Albe­marle Repub­li­can, gar­nered sig­nif­i­cant at­ten­tion for its nick­name — af­ter Den­ver Bron­cos quar­ter­back Tim Te­bow, who was home-schooled in Florida and played foot­ball on a lo­cal high school team.

Mr. Bell said a pa­rade of home-schooled chil­dren speak­ing be­fore the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion and Health Com­mit­tee who played ten­nis, bas­ket­ball and base­ball were not ask­ing for a spot on teams — just an op­por­tu­nity.

“Home school­ing has be­come more an ev­ery­day, main­stream choice,” Mr. Bell said af­ter the vote. “They get tested ev­ery year by the state and have to score at cer­tain lev­els . . . but one they can’t do is have big-team athletics. And so we’re try­ing to find a way for th­ese stu­dents, who are do­ing ev­ery­thing the state tells them to do, who are in good aca­demic stand­ing, can have a way to play sports.”

The 8-7 com­mit­tee vote was largely along party lines, with Sen. Harry B. Blevins, Vir­ginia Beach Repub­li­can and a for­mer teacher, vot­ing with seven Democrats against the leg­is­la­tion. The Repub­li­can­con­trolled House ap­proved the mea­sure last month on a 59-39 vote.

About 32,000 stu­dents are home­schooled in Vir­ginia. Twenty-five states ei­ther al­low home-school­ers to play sports at pub­lic schools, do not pro­hibit it, or leave the dis­cre­tion to lo­cal­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the Home School Le­gal De­fense As­so­ci­a­tion.

“I would like to see a Tim Te­bow for the state of Vir­ginia,” said Sen. Richard H. Black, Loudoun Repub­li­can.

The bill was op­posed by the Vir­ginia High School League, which co­or­di­nates pub­lic school sports through­out the state, as well as the Vir­ginia Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion and other teach­ers groups.

Gov. Bob Mcdon­nell, a Repub­li­can, had sup­ported the mea­sure.

Mr. Bell said that de­spite the bill’s fail­ure, he would con­tinue to sup­port the is­sue.

“We’ll keep bang­ing our heads against the wall un­til f in­ally, we’ll find a way through,” he said.

The same Se­nate com­mit­tee on Thurs­day also killed an ad­min­is­tra­tion-backed bill that would al­low lo­cal school dis­tricts the op­tion of open­ing their doors be­fore La­bor Day.

The so-called “King’s Do­min­ion” law is named af­ter the theme park north of Rich­mond, be­cause ef­forts to re­peal it are con­sis­tently op­posed by the state’s tourism and hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try, which heav­ily re­lies on stu­dent la­bor dur­ing the sum­mer. The in­dus­try ar­gues the re­peal could have a neg­a­tive im­pact on tourism.

The bill’s pa­tron, Del­e­gate Robert Tata, Vir­ginia Beach Repub­li­can, noted that 77 out of 132 of the state’s school di­vi­sions al­ready have waivers that al­low them to start school be­fore La­bor Day.

“We’re the only state on the East Coast that opens school af­ter La­bor Day,” Mr. Tata said af­ter­ward. “It’s been proven that it doesn’t af­fect tourism at all. What you lose at the end, you pick up at the be­gin­ning, and vice versa.”

But with Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Thomas K. Nor­ment Jr., James City Repub­li­can, lurk­ing in the back­ground of the room, the com­mit­tee voted to kill the mea­sure for a sec­ond time, hav­ing al­ready dis­patched the Se­nate ver­sion on the same 9-6 vote.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, said there will be House ac­tion on Pres­i­dent Obama’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date, which the Se­nate voted against amend­ing Thurs­day. But the Repub­li­can leader did not set a timetable for tak­ing up the is­sue. The is­sue is likely to re­main an is­sue through Novem­ber.

Sen. Patty Mur­ray, Wash­ing­ton Demo­crat, said of the Se­nate’s de­feat of the Repub­li­cans’ con­tra­cep­tion amend­ment Thurs­day: “We know this is just an at­tempt in a se­ries of at­tempts. . . . We’re go­ing to stand up, we’re go­ing to fight back.” Three of her fel­low Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with Repub­li­cans.

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