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News Wrap: Senate Democrats Defeat Reversal of Obama’s Birth Control Policy

March 1, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Three Afghans turned their weapons on NATO troops in Southern Afghanistan today, killing two U.S. soldiers. That makes six American troops killed by Afghan attackers in a spasm of violence since Qurans were burned at a U.S. base. U.S. and Afghan officials said two of today’s shooters were dressed as Afghan soldiers. The other was a civilian.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate have defeated a bid to roll back President Obama’s policy on birth control coverage. Republicans wanted to let employers and health insurers refuse to pay for contraceptive or other health services on religious or moral grounds.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said it was a matter of protecting fundamental rights.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-Utah: It’s the religious commitments of our nation that has made it the greatest nation in the world. And I have got to tell you, those of you who vote against this amendment are playing with fire. Those of you who vote against this amendment are ignoring the Constitution. Those of you who vote against this amendment are wrong.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Democrats rejected that argument. Instead, they said the measure was an assault on women’s rights.
California Democrat Barbara Boxer argued, it would open the door to denying access to a host of health services.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER, D-Calif.: They would no longer have to offer breast cancer screenings, cervical cancer screenings. All they have to do is say, oh, I’m really sorry. We believe prayer is the answer. We don’t believe in chemotherapy. We believe that, if someone is heavy, they’re obese and they get diabetes, we have a moral objection to helping them because, you know what, they didn’t lead a clean life.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In the end, the Republican proposal was defeated 51-48.

In economic news, small cars were the sales winners last month. A number of automakers reported today they had double-digit increases for February. Among the Detroit Big Three, Chrysler saw sales jump 40 percent or better, and Ford was up 14 percent, with smaller, gas-efficient models leading the way. General Motors eked out a 1 percent gain.

There were other encouraging signs today. Applications for first-time jobless benefits hit a four-year low last week. And major retailers reported strong February sales.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 28 points to close at 12,980. The Nasdaq rose 22 points to close just under 2,989.

Seven Americans left Egypt today, easing a crisis in U.S.-Egyptian relations. The seven work for pro-democracy groups. They had been accused of funding and promoting Egyptian protests against military rule. Sam LaHood, the son of transportation secretary Ray LaHood, was among those who had been detained. Nine other Americans left Egypt before they could be charged.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.