Senate Democrats unveil bill to override Hobby Lobby decision


File: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Congressional Democrats unveiled legislation Wednesday that would override the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case by requiring most employers to provide federally-required contraception and other health services even if they have religious objections.

The legislation, being introduced by Democrats in both the Senate and the House, would require all employers to abide by the contraception mandate included in the Affordable Care Act -- even if they claim to have religious objections.

The Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision, a 5-4 ruling by the high court last week, said that business owners with religious objections could exercise their right to not cover some kinds of contraception in employee health insurance packages. In response, Democrats vowed to make access to contraception a legislative priority for the remainder of the congressional term.

“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,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Tuesday. “This Hobby Lobby decision is outrageous, and we're going to do something about it. People are going to have to walk down here and vote, and if they vote with the five men on the Supreme Court, I think it's -- they're going to have -- be treated unfavorably come November with the elections.”

Efforts to craft a bill were spearheaded by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), among others. Their proposals were merged into a bill that could come up for a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate as early as next week.

“We have legislation to ensure that women continue to receive access to contraceptive coverage, even in wake of the horrible decision by Supreme Court,” Reid said.

The Senate bill being announced Wednesday by Murray would override the Supreme Court decision by requiring for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby to provide and pay for contraception and any other form of health coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

The bill would override the Religious Freedom Act, forcing most employers to comply with federal health-care requirements despite their religious objections. It would, however, include an exemption for houses of worship and an accommodation for religious non-profits.

Such a bill will likely face a tough pathway, even in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where several Democrats from more conservative states who face tough reelection fights will have to weigh the potential for political backlash if they support it. Other bills that would have codified major Democratic positions into law, such as paising the minimum wage and paycheck fairness, have fallen short of passage in the Senate this year.

There are currently efforts underway by House Democrats to craft a companion bill on the contraception issue, a Democratic leadership aide confirmed Tuesday, but such legislation would likely be a non-starter in the Republican-controlled lower chamber.

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

 

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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