Democrats in the House and Senate are expected to introduce companion bills today to reverse the US Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby by prohibiting for-profit employers from refusing to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives.
“Your health care decisions are not your boss’s business. Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who together with Mark Udall (D-CO), is a lead sponsor the bill in the Senate.
The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act will prohibit employers from refusing to offer health coverage – including contraceptives – guaranteed to their employees under federal law. The bill provides that no federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), permits employers from refusing to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
In its Hobby Lobby decision last week, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court ruled that RFRA prevented the government from requiring closely held corporations to comply with the ACA contraceptive coverage benefit if the owners of those corporations objected on religious grounds.
The Hobby Lobby decision did not address the religious exemption for houses of worship or the accommodation provided to religious non-profits, and the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act maintains the exemption to the ACA contraceptive coverage benefit, as well as the accommodation. Several religious non-profits have mounted challenges to the ACA accommodation, and the Supreme Court just last week granted a temporary emergency injunction to Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois, ruling that the school – which qualifies for an accommodation – did not have to comply with the ACA, calling into question whether the accommodation itself would be found to violate RFRA.
A Senate aide told the Huffington Post that the bill could reach the Senate floor for a vote as early as next week, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday indicated strong support for the proposal. “The one thing we’re going to do during this work period, sooner rather than later, is to ensure that women’s lives are not determined by virtue of five white men. This Hobby Lobby decision is outrageous, and we’re going to do something about it,” said Senator Reid at a news conference. “People are going to have to walk down here and vote, and if they vote with the five men on the Supreme Court, I think they are going to be treated unfavorably come November with the elections.”
Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), and Jerry Nadler (D-NY) will introduce an identical bill on the House side, but it is unlikely to move in that chamber.
Media Resources: Senator Patty Murray 7/9/14; New York Times 7/8/14; Huffington Post 7/8/14; Feminist Newswire 7/7/14