US Senate heads for showdown over contraceptives

WASHINGTON - The Democratic-led US Senate is expected Thursday to defeat a largely symbolic measure that would exempt employers such as Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and charities from a controversial White House rule requiring free birth control coverage.
Debate on the Republican proposal, introduced as an amendment to an unrelated highway bill, began on Wednesday and both parties seized the opportunity to play to voting constituencies considered crucial in November's election.
The Obama policy requires almost all employers who provide health insurance to provide coverage for women's contraceptives without copays or deductibles. It is vehemently opposed by social conservatives and Roman Catholic bishops on moral and religious grounds.
Democrats, seeking to turn the debate into an appeal to independent women voters, have sought to cast themselves as defenders of women's healthcare, while Republicans are pushing a religious liberty argument that could resonate with Catholics and other social conservatives in important swing states.
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