Democrats unveil measures to ease Hobby Lobby case impact


McClatchy Washington Bureau

Congressional Democrats Wednesday unveiled legislation aimed at easing the impact of the Supreme Court’s birth control decision last week.

In a 5-4 vote, the court ruled certain employers can reject, for religious reasons, the mandate to provide employees with birth control coverage. Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a furniture maker, were behind the legal challenge.

Most Republicans hailed the decision as a win for religious freedom. Democrats were generally livid--and saw a big political opportunity. Unmarried women in 2012 voted heavily for Democrats, and party strategists see outrage over the decision as a potential motivator this year.

Wednesday, Democrats announced new legislative efforts in the House of Reprsentatives and the Senate.

The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014 would “explicitly prohibit for-profit employers that maintain a group health plan for its employees from using religious beliefs to deny employees coverage of contraception or any other vital health service required by federal law.”

It would exempt exempts federally mandated health services from the religious freedom act, but keep exemptions for religioius employers, like houses of worship. It would also provide “accommodation of religious non-profits who do not wish to provide contraceptives.”

“This bill will ensure that employee access to critical health services is not at the mercy of their bosses’ religious beliefs,” said House co-sponsors Reps. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., in a statement.

“Congress never intended to allow corporate employers to block employee access to critical preventive services like birth control.”

Senate sponsors includes Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Mark Udall, D-Colo.

The act, said Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, reinstates the 2010 health care law’s contraceptive coverage “and protects the right of all Americans, men and women alike, to make decisions about their medical care in consultation with their doctor, not their boss.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said earlier this week he expects a vote during the current Senate work period, which is scheduled to end August 1. But winning that vote could be more difficult in the House of Representatives, where Republicans have a majority.

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