Debra J. Saunders
Though the Obama administration's decision to force church-based institutions to provide "access" to contraception as part of their health plans was intolerant and unconstitutional and gratuitously divisive, events have proved the move to be brilliant politics.

The White House later came up with a phony compromise -- one that allows church-affiliated employers to opt out of contraception but requires their health care providers to provide birth control to plan members. In the meantime, one act of raw power unleashed a cascade of stupid Republican tricks.

In February, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa questioned an all-male panel invited to discuss the administration's trampling of religious liberty. "Where are the women?" asked Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. Democrats unsuccessfully tried to add a woman, Sandra Fluke, a third-year student of the Jesuit Georgetown University's law school. Issa is a very smart man, and a second panel that day included two women, but that first panel was bad optics.

A top supporter of GOP hopeful Rick Santorum lamely recalled the days when birth control involved women putting an aspirin between their knees. The controversy enabled media to unearth old quotes from Santorum, such as his October admonition about "the dangers of contraception in this country." To Republican women who see family planning as a virtue, Santorum's views, though consistent with his religious beliefs, smack of the Dark Ages.

Enter an amendment proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., which not only promised to restore the conscience clause for church-based institutions but also expanded the exemption for any employer with moral objections -- and not just for reproductive issues but possibly even for treatments such as vaccinations. The Senate killed the amendment in a 51-48 vote Thursday.

Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine was the only Republican to vote against the measure. The vote came after Snowe announced she will not run for re-election because she is fed up with Washington's atmosphere of partisanship and polarization. To the casual observer, Snowe's "no" vote could be seen as support for President Barack Obama's move against church groups.

But it wasn't. Snowe told MSNBC that she disagrees with Obama and wants a "valid conscience clause," but she objected to the Blunt amendment because it was "broader" than necessary.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., dismissed the measure as "men telling women what their rights should be." The Democratic Party clearly plans to parlay this controversy into a bumper harvest of young female voters.

Debra J. Saunders

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