Congressional Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday to repeal part of a key religious freedom law and require for-profit companies to pay for their employees’ birth control under Obamacare.
Seeking to push back against last month’s Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, Democrats introduced bills in both the Senate, where leaders have vowed to take action, and in the House, where it’s unlikely Republicans will hold a vote on the legislation.
“This bill will ensure that employee access to critical health services is not at the mercy of their bosses’ religious beliefs,” the House sponsors said in a statement. “Congress never intended to allow corporate employers to block employee access to critical preventive services like birth control. We hope that our colleagues will join us in acting quickly to correct the Supreme Court’s decision.”
The Department of Health and Human Services tried to force for-profit companies to provide free contraceptives through an executive action, but a divided Supreme Court ruled that this regulation violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says the government must accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs under most circumstances.
In this case, known as Hobby Lobby after the chief plaintiff, the justices said there were other ways the government could give Americans contraception without imposing on business owners who have moral objections.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the new bill would ensure healthcare decisions are made in consultation with doctors, religious leaders and family, not by Washington politicians.
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby was a gross assault on workers’ rights and women’s health that singled out women’s health for discrimination,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement. “For-profit corporations must not be allowed to pick and choose which laws to obey or which essential health care services to insure.”
The House bill is sponsored by Reps. Louise Slaughter of New York, Diana DeGette of Colorado and Jerrold Nadler of New York. The Senate version was written by Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado and Patty Murray of Washington.
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, said the bill has no chance of advancing since the majority of lawmakers agree with the decision of the court.
“It’s shameful that this group of pro-abortion congressmen is seeking to undo the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and religious freedom,” Mr. Scheidler said. “This bill has no chance of passage, but may score some political points for Slaughter and her colleagues.”
Democrats’ bill would still allow places of worship to deny coverage based on beliefs.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has vowed to bring the bill to the floor of his chamber in July.
“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,” he told reporters Tuesday. “This Hobby Lobby decision is outrageous, and we’re going to do something about it.”
Democrats hope they can use the issue to try to energize their voters ahead of November’s elections, and a number of them have sent out campaign mailings vowing to try to undo the decision.