Democrats’ first effort to make political hay out of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision fell short Wednesday, victim to a GOP filibuster that leaves the justices’ ruling in place and likely shifts the issue to voters in November.
Only three Republicans joined with Democrats to back a bill to overturn last month’s ruling, which gave owners of closely-held corporations the right to opt out of providing insurance for contraceptive coverage for employees if they held a valid religious objection.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the failure to push the bill over the line will reignite charges of a GOP war on women.
“Senate Republicans continue to demonstrate that they are out of touch with women across America,” he told reporters after the vote.
Mr. Reid vowed to try again on the Senate floor, though the bill was never going to become law since the House, controlled by Republicans, was never going to allow a vote on it.
In its 5-4 ruling, the court relied on a 1993 law that says the government cannot infringe on religious liberties unless it had a compelling reason to and did so in the least restrictive way possible.
But Democrats said the Supreme Court misinterpreted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by extending its protections to corporations.
“We were dealing with the protection of individual — underline, individual — liberties,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and the chief sponsor of the 1993 law, which enjoyed wide bipartisan support.
Republicans accused their rivals of using political showmanship and loose rhetoric to mislead voters. They said the Hobby Lobby decision dealt with insurance coverage, and doesn’t prohibit any woman from obtaining contraception.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said he doesn’t know of a single person who trying to block a women’s right to obtain birth control.
“My wife and I are blessed with two little girls. I’m very glad we don’t have 17,” he said, labeling the Democrats’ bill an “all-out assault” on the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.
Despite falling three votes shy of being able to overcome the filibuster, Democrats trumpeted the attempt in campaign literature.
“GOP just filibustered your rights,” said the headline of a fundraising email from Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.
“Today’s vote reminds us that Republican Senate candidates across the country support radical measures that would block birth control and roll back women’s health care rights even further than the Hobby Lobby decision did,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
For days, Democrats on both sides of the Capitol rallied with advocacy groups to argue the Hobby Lobby decision let bosses put contraception out of reach for women who rely on it for family planning and an array of health needs.
“It’s an essential part of women’s health and should be part of an employee’s package, and not something she has to go and add on later,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat.
Conservative groups like the Family Research Council fought back, urging senators to vote against the Democrats’ bill. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans kicked off the day by blasting the Democrats’ push as “really stupid politics” that treads on constitutional freedoms.
“I don’t care which party you’re in, you’ve got to really think it through when you start infringing on religious freedoms,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said Republicans will put up a bill that reaffirms a woman’s right to access to contraceptives of her choosing. It will also require the FDA to study the sale of contraceptives without a prescription and allow women to set aside more money in Health Savings Accounts.
“We think that, instead of restricting Americans’ religious freedoms, Congress should instead work to preserve a woman’s ability to make contraceptive decisions for herself,” he said Wednesday.