Senate Republicans voted to block legislation on Wednesday to overturn the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling and restore the legal right under Obamacare to cost-free contraceptive coverage for most female workers.
The procedural vote was 56 for, and 43 against, falling short of the needed 60 to defeat a filibuster. Three Republicans voted with Democrats on the bill: Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Mark Kirk (IL) and Lisa Murkowski (AK). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) switched his vote to no at the end to reserve his right to bring up the bill again.
The bill, offered by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO), would narrow the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and forbid employer-based insurance plans from opting out of providing health services required by federal law. Democrats call it the “Not My Boss’s Business Act.”
The partisan divide in the Senate largely reflected the partisan divide in the Supreme Court, where 5 Republican-appointed justices ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, while 4 Democratic-appointed justices ruled against the Oklahoma-based retain chain’s request for an exemption to the law on religious grounds.
The GOP filibuster prevents the legislation from coming up for an up-or-down vote. It clarifies the contrast between the two parties on the issue ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. Democrats are betting that the effort will mobilize their base, particularly single women who tend to vote less often in midterms.
Afterward, Reid promised he’d bring up the bill again for a vote this year.
Republicans defend the Hobby Lobby ruling as a move to uphold religious liberty. But they’re sensitive to Democratic attacks that they don’t care about women’s access to contraception. Symbolic legislation offered in response by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) would affirm that a woman can still buy contraception on her own. It would also make a very minor policy tweak by removing a limit under Obamacare on contributions to tax-advantaged medical savings accounts.
This article has been updated.