Accusing the Supreme Court of turning a religious freedom law on its head and dragging down women's rights, a group of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday introduced legislation that would reverse the court's recent ruling on health insurance coverage for birth control.
"We are peddling back with this court as fast as they can take us to the 19th Century," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said. "We don't want to go."
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that closely-held companies like Hobby Lobby don't have to follow the Obamacare mandate requiring large firms to help pay for their employees' birth control. Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., consequently introduced a bill that specifically bans for-profit employers from refusing to provide health coverage -- including contraceptive coverage -- guaranteed to their employees under federal law.
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"Last week we saw the Supreme Court give CEOs and corporations across America the green light to deny legally mandated health care coverage," Murray said. Women are "tired of being targeted and are looking to Congress to right this wrong by the Supreme Court."
The court's argument was based on the premise that closely-held firms have a right to deny coverage for certain types of birth control they find objectionable under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The 1993 law dictates that an individual's religious expression shouldn't be "substantially burdened" by a law unless there is a "compelling government interest."
Democrats on Wednesday, however, charged that the Supreme Court misinterpreted the law. The RFRA, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said, "was written for one reason -- to protect employees' freedom of religion." The Supreme Court however, "decided that the employer -- the boss-- has total power to deny critical medical care to their employees," she said. "They turned the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on its head."
"The point of that law was that we wanted the law to be used as a shield to protect people's religious beliefs," added Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., "not as a sword to impose somebody's religious belief on somebody else."
The law introduced Wednesday would not amend the RFRA, but it clarifies that it doesn't allow for-profit companies to opt out of the Obamacare contraception coverage rule. The bill would also nullify court challenges against the Obama administration's compromise rule for nonprofits that object to the contraception coverage. The law would still allow exemption for houses of worship.
Murray said the bill has about 40 co-sponsors already but no Republican support yet. "We hope that there will be, and I believe that Republican women across the country" would support the bill, she said.
A companion bill will soon be introduced in the House, and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., expressed optimism about getting some GOP support in that chamber as well.
"Lately in the House we've actually been able to pass legislation supporting birth control," she said. "We're hopeful when our Republican colleagues in the House hear about this from their constituents, they'll sign on."