The controversial government mandate requiring birth control coverage at no cost to women employed by religion-affiliated institutions is winning voters' support, especially from women.
But opinion is more closely divided on Sen. Roy Blunt's proposal to allow employers to opt out of providing health-care coverage on moral grounds.
Adults oppose Blunt proposal by a margin 44-40 percent, according to a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll released this morning.
Republicans favor Blunt's plans narrowly, Democrats oppose it and independents are divided about evenly.
The results were not as close on the broader question of the Obama administration's rule mandating coverage and, as revised, shifting the cost to insurance companies.
Adults who were polled support the mandate by 49-40 percent, a margin that reflects strongly divergent views by gender, race and political affiliation.
The poll found that women support the contraception rule 53-36 percent, perhaps an indication of why women's groups and activists have begun using the dispute for organizing and raising money.
An even bigger split showed up in attitude by race. While whites are evenly divided on the mandate, minorities support it 2-1, the poll found.
Likewise, roughly two-in-three Democrats support President Barack Obama's new mandate while 3-in-5 Republicans oppose it.
The poll of 1,005 adults has a potential error margin of 3.5 percent.
Blunt's legislation has emerged as the main arena for debate in Washington on the new mandate. He is attempting to attach it to transportation legislation that could come up for Senate consideration this afternoon.
In a 'Dear Colleague' letter today to Senate Republicans, Blunt argued that at least ten laws passed in recent decades have wording identical or similar to what he is proposing in his Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. The letter referred to the "animated discussions on the threat to religious liberty" triggered by the mandate and noted objections by critics of the rule.
Over the weekend, many Catholic congregations heard of a letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supporting Blunt's approach.
"This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty," the bishops' letter read.
Blunt's opponents argue that his legislation would open the door for employers to deny coverage for a variety of reasons.
In a senate floor speech this morning, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who is Catholic, pointedly criticized the proposal by Blunt , who is not Catholic.
Durbin asserted that Blunt's amendment would allow employers to deny coverage for any health care service. For instance, he argued, Blunt's proposal would allow employers to deny coverage for vaccinations or for mental health treatment if they objected on moral grounds.
"The Blunt amendment would have a harmful effect on all people and undermine our nation's efforts to ensure everyone in the country has access to a basic standard of health coverage," Durbin contended.
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