Republican leaders might be trying to avoid getting re-entangled in the culture wars, but Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt on Tuesday said he is considering intervening in a legal challenge to a proposed federal contraception rule brought by Catholic organizations.
The Missouri Republican — who is presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s liaison to Congress — said he is looking into joining the challenge to the rule, which requires religiously affiliated hospitals and other institutions, excluding churches, to provide employee health insurance that includes access to contraception.
When asked whether he or other Republicans would file an amicus brief, Blunt said, “I’ve been [in] a few discussions on it ... but I haven’t made a decision on it nor has a decision been made on it yet, as far as I know.”
On Monday, 43 Catholic dioceses and other religious organizations filed challenges to the rule in all 11 circuits of the federal judicial system, claiming the law violates the Constitution’s religious freedom protections.
“We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress — and we’ll keep at it — but there’s still no fix. Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement.
The issue became a cause celebre for Republicans when Catholic organizations protested the Department of Health and Human Services rule in February. But the two most vocal GOP critics of the rule — Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — were conspicuous in their silence Tuesday.
While Boehner’s official Twitter account posted a link to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece defending the suit, his office did not put out a statement on the suits and declined a request for comment.
Likewise, McConnell’s office did not put out a statement and, when asked at his weekly press conference about the issue, the Senate’s top Republican silently deferred to Blunt.
A senior Senate GOP leadership aide argued the decision to stay away from the contraception fight is the right one.
“No way. Absolutely not. There’s no way any of our guys should touch this with a 10-foot pole,” the aide said when asked whether Republicans would resume their vocal attacks on the rule.
The lack of leadership engagement on the contraception issue is not entirely surprising, given the difficulties the party has had with Democrats’ recent accusations that the GOP is engaging in a “war on women.”