Senate Democrats introduce bill to override Hobby Lobby decision
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A pair of Democratic senators introduced legislation Wednesday that would overturn a recent Supreme Court ruling that defended the rights of private for-profit employers to opt out of providing insurance coverage for abortifacient drugs on religious grounds.
Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) held a press conference Wednesday morning to announce the introduction of the bill, dubbed the “Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act.” The bill would force for-profit employers to comply with the Obamacare birth control mandate, which requires business owners to provide employees and dependents with full, co-pay-free coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, regardless of their religious objections.
The legislation was reportedly crafted after consultation with the Obama administration, which originally issued the mandate through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The mandate has spawned hundreds of lawsuits by religious employers, including the infamous Hobby Lobby case that led to last week’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision ruling the mandate unconstitutional.
“At a time when 99 percent of sexually active women in the U.S. have used birth control, five justices decided last week that a CEO's personal views can interfere with a woman's access to this preventive service,” Sen. Murray said. “They're tired of being targeted and are looking to Congress to right this wrong by the Supreme Court.”
While it would normally be impossible for Congress to simply “overturn” a Supreme Court ruling, Senate Democrats are pinning their hopes on the fact that the high court struck the HHS mandate down on the grounds that it violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, without explicitly mentioning the First Amendment. The RFRA bars the government from “substantially burden[ing] religious exercise without compelling justification.” Murray’s and Udall’s bill would explicitly prioritize the birth control mandate above the RFRA, making it clear that religious rights are secondary to the law.
Murray and Udall were joined at the podium by Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards and NARAL president Ilyse Hogue, who both praised the legislation.
"With this bill, Congress can begin to fix the damage done by the Supreme Court's decision to allow for-profit corporations to deny their employees birth control coverage,” said Richards. “The Supreme Court last week opened the door to a wide range of discrimination and denial of services. This bill would help close the door for denying contraception before more corporations can walk through it.”
Hogue warned legislators that failure to support the legislation could have electoral repercussions. “Not only are women mobilized. Men are mobilized. Families are mobilized," Hogue said. In an earlier statement, Hogue said company owners who fail to facilitate free access to the full range of contraceptive options, including abortifacients, are guilty of “discrimination against women in the workplace.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) vowed to take quick action on the bill.
A companion bill will soon be introduced in the House of Representatives, but chances of it coming to a vote are slim. The Republican leadership in the House supported the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) calling the decision “a victory for religious freedom and another defeat for an administration that has repeatedly crossed constitutional lines in pursuit of its Big Government objectives.”
The Senate version of the bill may also face an uphill climb, if enough Republicans decide to fight it. Although Democrats are the majority in the upper chamber, they do not have enough votes to break a filibuster.
In their 5-4 ruling the Supreme Court had dismissed arguments that businesses can be forced to pay for coverage for abortifacients.
"We must next ask whether the HHS contraceptive mandate 'substantially burden[s]' the exercise of religion," the justices wrote. "We have little trouble concluding that it does."