Looking to rev up their voters ahead of midterm contests, Democrats said Thursday that the Senate will vote next week to overturn the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision on free birth control because the court “misapplied” a law protecting religious freedom.
“It is a horrible decision, certainly the worst in the last 25 years,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
As a result of the ruling, owners of closely held companies do not have to pay for insurance coverage for employees’ contraception if they have moral objections.
Democrats want to effectively overturn the 5-4 ruling by carving out an exception to the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the justices used to form their decision.
“Without a doubt, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was written to apply only to individuals, not corporations, and the Supreme Court went way beyond the bounds of the law’s intent,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who helped pass the legislation. “Applying this case more broadly to corporations is a perversion of our original intent and only serves to put women’s health care choices in the hands of her boss.”
The Supreme Court majority alluded to other options for the Obama administration and its Democratic allies. For instance, the White House extended a compromise to religious nonprofit groups so their hospitals, colleges and charities did not have to pay for or manage contraceptive coverage. Also, the justices noted, the government could pay for the contraceptives itself.
Analysts said Democrats wanted a politically charged solution to set up a campaign issue for November’s elections.
“The House will not agree to weakening of the Hobby Lobby decision. The Democrats have one motive: to use this issue in the fall as part of their campaign strategy to argue that the Republicans are waging a war against women’s rights,” said G. Terry Madonna, a politics professor at the Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. “If the government pays for contraceptives, that weakens their campaign argument.”
Congressional Democrats spun the narrative forward Thursday by saying the Hobby Lobby ruling, named for its lead plaintiff, could cause a ripple effect in which companies declare religious objections to other health care procedures such as vaccinations or blood transfusion.
“This isn’t just about contraceptives,” said Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who is locked in a close re-election race against Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican.
Mr. Udall drafted the Senate bill with Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.
The mandate, an administrative rule tied to Obamacare, required employers to provide insurance policies that covered contraceptives at no cost as part of company health care plans. The court’s majority said this regulation violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says the government must accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs under most circumstances.
Democrats said the court decision also will affect wives and daughters of employees at companies that object to the contraception mandate. They said it makes little sense for pro-lifers to oppose contraception because the drugs could prevent unwanted pregnancies.
“The more unplanned pregnancies there are, the greater likelihood of more abortions,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.
Hobby Lobby did not object to insuring most forms of birth control required under the Affordable Care Act, only a few that it equates with abortion. However, others who object to the contraception mandate, including the Roman Catholic Church and its institutions, object to all contraception as immoral.