Democrats launch bills to undo Hobby Lobby decision

Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday to narrow the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the 1993 law used by the Supreme Court as justification for the Hobby Lobby decision.
By Gabrielle Levy  |  July 9, 2014 at 4:07 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 9 (UPI) -- Democrats introduced twin bills Wednesday to undo the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision that allows for-profit companies to opt out of contraception coverage required by the Affordable Care Act.

In a 5-4 decision last week, the Supreme Court ruled the ACA's contraception mandate, which requires all insurance policies to provide contraceptive coverage free of additional charge, violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The decision was the first time the court found for-profit companies, rather than religious non-profits such as churches, could hold religious views under federal law.

Now Democrats say the court's interpretation of the RFRA went too far.

Bills sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., in the Senate and Reps. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., in the House would narrow the RFRA so that it could not be applied to for-profit companies for healthcare services.

The bill, for which specific text would be made available Wednesday afternoon, will say that federally mandated health services will be exempt from RFRA for any employer except religious non-profits.

"After five justices decided last week that an employer's personal views can interfere with women's access to essential health services, we in Congress need to act quickly to right this wrong," Murray said. "This bicameral legislation will ensure that no CEO or corporation can come between people and their guaranteed access to health care, period. I hope Republicans will join us to revoke this court-issued license to discriminate and return the right of Americans to make their own decisions, about their own health care and their own bodies."

The RFRA passed overwhelmingly in Congress and was signed by President Clinton after the Supreme Court handed down a widely panned decision involving Native American ceremonial drug use. In Employment Division v. Smith, the Court backed the state of Oregon's refusal to give unemployment benefits to two Native Americans who were fired from their jobs after testing positive for mescaline, a psychedelic compound found in peyote, a cactus used in religious ceremonies.

In his Hobby Lobby opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that "RFRA's text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty and did not intend to put merchants to such a choice."

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg refuted that argument in her dissent, pointing out that Congress had considered -- and rejected -- broader applications in its debate before passing the RFRA.

"While the Women's Health Amendment succeeded, a countermove proved unavailing," she wrote. "The Senate voted down the so-called 'conscience amendment,' which would have enabled any employer or insurance provider to deny coverage based on its asserted 'religious beliefs or moral convictions... Rejecting the 'conscience amendment,' Congress left health care decisions -- including the choice among contraceptive methods -- in the hands of women, with the aid of their health care providers."

The measures are destined for almost-certain failure in the Republican-controlled House and in the Senate, where Conservatives who cheered the Hobby Lobby decision hold enough sway to halt it.

But Democrats are eager to play out the fight on this and other issues that play especially strongly with women. According to aggregate polling conducted from 2004 to 2012, unmarried women consistently back Democrats, to the tune of nearly 70 percent in 2012. More than half of unmarried men vote Democratic, too, while both married men and married women slightly favor Republicans.

And though married people still make up a higher percentage of the electorate, particularly in non-presidential elections, their share is declining. In 2012, married men and women made up just under 60 percent of the electorate -- a low -- as unmarried women jumped to nearly 25 percent.

With half of all adult women over 18 now unmarried, Democrats see this trend -- and the legislative battles it comes with -- as a fruitful one.

More about the bill, from Murray's office:

Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act summary

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