Congressional Democrats rolled out legislation on Wednesday to overturn the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling and restore the legal right to cost-free contraceptive coverage for women in their employer insurance plans.
The “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act,” written by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO), would force for-profit businesses to cover birth control and other preventive services required under Obamacare even if their owners object. It had 35 cosponsors upon introduction — all Democrats.
“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,” Murray told a room full of reporters. “They’re tired of being targeted and are looking to Congress to right this wrong by the Supreme Court.”
It would overturn the 5-4 Court decision that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act permits closely held corporations with religious owners to opt out of the birth control mandate. Cosponsoring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who voted for RFRA in 1993, said it was written “to protect employees’ freedom of religion” and not let employers deny services required by law.
Companion legislation will be introduced in the House by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Diana Degette (D-CO), the co-chairs of the pro-choice caucus, as well as Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY). They joined Senate Democrats at the rollout, along with leaders of reproductive rights groups NARAL and Planned Parenthood.
The legislation faces steep odds in Congress because Republicans strongly oppose the birth control mandate and support the Supreme Court decision against it. In the Senate, they have the votes to filibuster the bill. In the House, they can prevent it from even coming up for a vote.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called the ruling “a victory for religious freedom and another defeat for an administration that has repeatedly crossed constitutional lines in pursuit of its Big Government objectives.”
To the extent that Democrats can use the bill to mobilize women voters, it may serve as a potentially lucrative political weapon for them ahead of a tough election in November. Single women and younger Americans, both key Democratic constituencies, tend to vote in considerably lower numbers during midterm elections.
“Not only are women mobilized. Men are mobilized. Families are mobilized,” NARAL president Ilyse Hogue said at the unveiling of the bill on Wednesday.
The Democratic sponsors tread lightly on the political upside of the bill, insisting that the Supreme Court decision has already motivated women to vote.
“What energized women across the country is five Supreme Court justices took away their health care decisions and economically impacted women,” Murray told TPM.
Boxer told TPM that “women are already mobilized all over the country. They can’t believe we’re arguing about this.”
Photo credit: Sahil Kapur