As the government shutdown continues and the House and Senate struggle to compromise, more components of the Affordable Care Act are factoring into the GOP's negotiation tactics. Recently, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has attempted to rally the GOP around a "conscience clause" that allows employers and insurers to opt out of birth control coverage for women if they object to it on moral or religious grounds. Although Obamacare currently requires employers and insurers to provide free contraception in their health care plans, it has already exempted churches, religious organizations, and religiously affiliated universities and hospitals from this requirement, instead forcing insurance companies to provide free contraception to employees covered by religious institutions.
Of course, adding this "conscious clause" could be very difficult for women who have begun to enjoy the free contraception provided by Obamacare. Though the article does not make the wording of this proposed clause clear, it may simply provide a loophole for insurers and employers who are not officially religiously affiliated but could opt out of free birth control by claiming that they oppose it on moral grounds.
In an article on ThinkProgress.org, Igor Volsky notes how this move is just another tactic used by the GOP to gain leverage in a debate that is related but not the cause of the government shutdown. As the Senate has now basically taken over and is in the process of drafting a bipartisan agreement, the House Republican majority still holds a great deal of power in accepting or rejecting the Senate's plan. The article suggests that using issues like contraception as leverage, Republicans can eagerly oppose this deal to strike down important parts of Obamacare that are against Republican ideology. Women's contraception is unfortunately one issue that has become part of a larger strategy. As the Thursday debt deadline approaches and pressure mounts, many Senators are hoping that enough House Republicans cave and enough vote with the House Democrats to pass the Senate's bipartisan measure without this added clause. However, considering the Republican majority in the House and the minority of females in Congress, this may be a part of Obamacare that Democrats are willing to sacrifice to reach a deal by Thursday. If Democrats substantively represent their constituents, it seems unlikely that a conscience clause will pass, but if they are merely descriptive representatives, this measure may be an important component of compromise. Many Democrats, though, feel that any negotiation over the Affordable Care Act would be a loss, and this desire for party unity and loyalty may actually work in women's favor by not letting Republicans pass this conscience clause.